It's time once again for the Dime Package, the regular game week look at 10 thoughts related to Blue Raider football and the upcoming Middle Tennessee game.
This week, we look ahead to FIU, examine the importance of doing well in a key recruiting hotbed, and much more.
1) CRADDOCK EYEING NEW BENCHMARKS-MT quarterback Joe Craddock is piecing together what has the makings of becoming a record setting senior season. Craddock leads the Sun Belt in passing yards and is on pace to become the first Blue Raider quarterback to throw for more than 3,000 yards in a season. He could also set a new school record for total offense. His current pace would put him beyond 3,300 yards of total offense, a number that would far surpass Clint Marks' single season record of 2,862 total offense yards set in 2004. Craddock has an outside shot of breaking the single season touchdown passes record. That mark is held by Mickey Corwin, who threw for 21 scores in 1984. Craddock's current pace would give him 17 touchdown passes at season's end.
2) A STINGIER, SMARTER FIU-What are the differences between this year's FIU squad that has won two games already and last year's Golden Panthers team that finished 1-11? FIU is actually averaging almost 40 less yards per game through five games than it did in 2007, but the defense has tightened up. The Golden Panthers are allowing just 389 yards per game so far, compared to nearly 450 per game that they surrendered last year. There has also been drastic improvement in turnover margin. FIU threw 20 interceptions last year and posted a cumulative -15 turnover margin. So far this season, the Golden Panthers are +6 in turnover margin and are tied for first in the Sun Belt in takeaways. Quarterback Paul McCall has thrown five interceptions this year, a drastic reduction from the errant passes of a year ago, when Wayne Younger threw 17 of the team's 20 interceptions.
3) WHAT NEEDS TO HAPPEN IN THE SUN BELT-It's no secret Middle Tennessee needs a lot of help to work its way back into the Sun Belt championship picture. The Blue Raiders also need to take care of their own business on the field. To have any hope of competing for the league title, MT fans need to cheer on Florida Atlantic in tonight's game against Troy on ESPN2. If the Owls drop that one to the Trojans, then long odds will grow even longer for the Blue Raiders. If FAU knocks off Troy, then maybe fans can begin to entertain the possibility that the chips could fall in the desired fashion. The good news is that Troy and Arkansas State still have to play each other, just as FAU also has to play the Red Wolves. Each of the contenders also still must face Louisiana-Lafayette, which looks very formidable with quarterback Michael Desormeaux and running back Tyrell Fenroy forming a very tough tandem. There are two bottom lines to any championship talk: 1) If MT doesn't win out in the league, it's a moot point. 2) If FAU doesn't rise up and beat Troy tonight, it's a moot point.
4) MIAMI AREA OF GREAT IMPORTANCE-Miami and its surrounding area is a high priority for the Blue Raider coaching staff in recruiting and a quick glance at the roster shows its value. Chris McClover, Rod Issac, Jamari Lattimore, Sancho McDonald, Jeremy Kellem, Derrick Crumpton, Ted Riley, Antwan Davis, Darin Davis, Jake Padrick, and Emmanuel Perez all come from Miami or a nearby city. How would the Blue Raiders fare without those guys? Probably not very well. Putting on a good performance at FIU would be another boost to recruiting after last week's dramatic win over Florida Atlantic on ESPN2. Traveling to Miami also gives the coaching staff a chance to strengthen their contacts with prospects and high school coaches in the area.
5) KELLEM IS MR. STEADY-Blue Raider safety Jeremy Kellem is putting together a very consistent season. He ranks second on the team in tackles and is tied for first in interceptions, fumble recoveries, and forced fumbles. He has recorded at least four tackles in every game and has never ranked outside the top three tacklers on the team in any single game. He was rewarded for his five tackles, one interception, and one fumble recovery against FAU with the Sun Belt's Defensive Player of the Week honor.
6) THE BEST PLAY-Has there been a better play in Middle Tennessee's 1-A history than Malcolm Beyah's last second touchdown catch against Florida Atlantic last week? It's hard to come up with a better one. Jeremiah Weaver's field goal block at Vanderbilt in 2005 to seal a memorable win over the Commodores may be the only play that can lay claim to a similar standing in the last 10 years of Blue Raider football.
7) QUICK GLANCE IN THE REARVIEW MIRROR-It would be hard to find a more thorough beating than the one MT handed FIU last year in a 47-6 win at Floyd Stadium. The Blue Raiders scored all of their points in a dominating first half performance and held the Golden Panthers to less than 75 yards both running and passing. Dwight Dasher carried the Blue Raider offense with three passing touchdowns and two rushing touchdowns. He had 298 yards of total offense in the win, while the defense forced four turnovers.
8) BIG PLAY POSSIBILITIES-Both Middle Tennessee and Florida International have had some offensive issues this season, but both teams also boast a proven big time playmaker. The Blue Raiders have Beyah, who is averaging more than 20 yards a catch and has shown a knack for getting open deep in the secondary and making tacklers miss. The Golden Panthers have T.Y. Hilton, who has racked up 284 receiving yards and three touchdowns on just eight total catches for the year. Hilton is averaging a whopping 35 yards per catch and is also an explosive punt returner. He's taken one punt back for a touchdown already this year and is averaging more than 20 yards per return on his seven attempts.
9) WILL EITHER GROUND ATTACK GET GOING?-Both FIU and MT have struggled to move the ball on the ground this year. The Blue Raiders' highest rushing output in a single game has been 118 yards. FIU has churned out at least 110 rushing yards in each of the last two games and topped 140 rushing yards at Toledo, but for the season the Golden Panthers are averaging just 89 yards on the ground per game. That number ranks them 112th in the country, while MT checks in at 117th with an average of just 66.4 yards rushing per game.
10) COULD THE PANTHERS CONCEIVABLY CONTEND?-FIU's conference opening victory at North Texas was certainly an impressive one and if the Golden Panthers can manage a home win over MT, they will have reason for some optimism about potentially contending for a conference championship. Their next two games come at Troy and at Louisiana-Lafayatte, where any potential contending talk would either be validated or silenced, but the Blue Raiders hope to put a quick end to any potential early Cinderella story in the league.