By Ralph Lauro, Associate College Football Editor
2009 SEASON IN REVIEW: In coach Rick Stockstill's fourth season, the Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders turned in one of their finest campaigns in program history in 2009, finishing 10-3 overall and 7-1 within the Sun Belt. Middle
Tennessee became the first team in the Sun Belt's history to win 10 games,
with half of those victories coming away from home.
After losing their opening game of the 2009 campaign to Clemson (37-14), the
Raiders bounced back with three straight victories, including a 32-31 defeat
at Maryland. The streak though, came to an abrupt end, as Middle Tennessee
suffered a 31-7 loss to Troy, which went on to win the Sun Belt with an
Following the loss to Troy, the Raiders fell to Mississippi State, 27-6, but
that would be their last taste of defeat. Middle Tennessee ripped off seven
straight victories to close out the campaign, including a 42-32 win over
Southern Miss in the New Orleans Bowl. It marked the program's first FBS bowl
win, and the win streak is the school's longest since the 1985 squad won 11 in
a row. The 10 overall victories are the most during the FBS era for MT, which
last posted double-digit wins back in 1992.
OFFENSE: For the third straight season, MT will have a new offensive
coordinator, as former TCU and Illinois playcaller Mike Schultz steps in for
Tony Franklin, who moved over to Louisiana Tech after one go around with the
Blue Raiders. Schultz will keep the basic scheme intact, as a majority of the
offense returns after ranking 23rd in scoring (32.0 ppg) and 27th in total
yards (421.7 ypg) last season.
The Raiders are completely set at quarterback, as Dwight Dasher returns
following a remarkable 2009 campaign in which he became one of just eight
gunslingers in FBS history to rush for 1,000 yards and pass for 2,000 in the
same season. The 5-10, 202-pound Dasher passed for 2,789 yards and 23
touchdown, while rushing for a team-high 1,154 yards and 13 more scores. He
capped his terrific season by being named MVP of the New Orleans Bowl, where
he threw for 162 yards and set a bowl-record for rushing by a quarterback with
"I want him to improve in his ball security and running the offense a little
quicker," said Stockstill on the areas he would like to see Dasher improve
Unfortunately for Dasher, he will have to find some new targets, as MT was hit
hard by graduation at the wide receiver position. Garrett Andrews (6-3, 206)
is the top returning receiver and he will be counted on for even more
production after catching 35 passes for 530 yards and five touchdowns last
The Raiders are more settled in the backfield, where the team has two solid
options in D.D. Kyles and Phillip Tanner. The 6-1, 198-pound Kyles stepped in
last season after Tanner went down with an injury and he responded by rushing
for 857 behind a 6.2 yard per carry average. The 6-0, 208-pound Tanner ran for
714 yards and 15 scores in 2008 and his healthy return gives MT an unmatched
one-punch in the backfield.
"You cannot have enough good running backs," said Schultz. "With the injuries
of this game, you cannot have enough good running backs."
All but one starter returns from an offensive line which paved the way for
186.0 rushing ypg in 2009, so Tanner and Kyles should have plenty of holes to
hit. Right tackle Mark Fisher (6-3, 272), a second-team all-league pick, took
part in 946 snaps last season and will anchor the line.
DEFENSE: Much like on offense, the Raiders have a new defensive coordinator in
Randall McCray, a former Wisconsin assistant. McCray inherits a unit that must
replace five all-conference performers as well as minimize big plays.
"Last season we gave up almost 1,900 yards of big plays," stated McCray. This
can be eliminated by doing away with mental errors and having people in the
right place at the right time."
Along the line, Middle Tennessee will need to fill the void left by two
starters, including co-Defensive Player of the Year Chris McCoy. End Jamari
Lattimore does return however, and the second-team all-league choice is a
playmaker that recorded 47 stops, 5.5 sacks and three fumble recoveries in
The Raiders lost a pair of all-conference performers at linebacker, leaving
Antwan Davis as the lone returning starter. The 6-1, 218-pound Davis had 52
tackles last season and he will be counted on to provide leadership for the
The last line of defense is expected to be the strength of this defense, as
the secondary welcomes back three starters. Safety Jeremy Kellem (5-10, 188)
is versatile and experienced and he earned First-Team All-Sun Belt honors in
2009 after posting 64 tackles, three sacks, three interceptions and two
blocked punts. Fellow safety Kevin Brown (6-1, 205) also returns and he had
similar numbers with 63 stops and four picks in 2009. Corner Rod Issac (5-11,
186) is the third returning starter and he ranked third on the team with 72
stops a year ago.
SPECIAL TEAMS: The Raiders blocked eight kicks last season and more of the
same is expected in 2010. Making kicks was also a strength of this team thanks
to Alan Gendreau, who returns after hitting 18-of-22 fields goals on his way
to First-Team All-Sun Belt honors. Nathaniel Toulson steps in as the new
punter and he has a big leg.
OUTLOOK: Middle Tennessee did lose an abundance of players to graduation last
season, but there is plenty of returning talent to make the Raiders the
favorite in the Sun Belt. Dasher is arguably the most dangerous player in the
conference and MT's offense should put up big numbers because of him. The
defense has more questions to answer, but this unit should still be solid at
worst. A league crown is within reach, but Middle Tennessee must first find a
way to beat Troy, the four-time defending champions. Stockstill is 0-4 against
Troy and 20-5 against the rest of the conference.