The age-old saying that defense wins championships could be in for a real test. Middle Tennessee is pinning its title hopes on offense.
The Blue Raiders, who finished second with one loss to Troy in the Sun Belt, return eight starters from a unit that produced 32 points and 422 yards a game last season, second and third in the league, respectively.
The key returnee is quarterback Dwight Dasher, who must give opposing defensive coordinators nightmares. Dasher ran for 1,154 yards and threw for 2,789 last season in leading the Raiders to a 10-3 record and bowl victory.
The Raiders have four starters back in the line along with running backs D.D. Kyle and Phillip Tanner. Tanner opened 2009 as the starter but sustained a season-ending knee injury in the second game. Kyle finished up and ran for 857 yards, giving Middle Tennessee two of the top six rushers in the conference.
The issue on offense will be at wide receiver, where two new starters must be found.
And there are big holes to fill on defense with the departure of defensive linemen Chris McCoy and Brandon Perry, linebackers Danny Carmichael and Cam Robinson, and cornerback Alex Suber.
Coach Rick Stockstill's assessment of the team overall wasn't all that optimistic coming out of the spring.
"We are very inconsistent," Stockstill said. "We have a long way to go on both sides of the ball. We have got some guys that are hurt, and to me, I do not think we really know about our team until we get everybody back healthy.
"These guys always work. I have never been disappointed in how they work. They know what we expect, and they go out and do it."NOTES, QUOTES
-- QB Dwight Dasher finished second in the league in total offense (303.3 yards per game) to Troy QB Levi Brown (327.8), but no quarterback in the Sun Belt was as productive as Dasher was in running the football. Of Dasher's 3,943 yards overall, 1,154 came on the ground. Nationally, only UAB's Joe Webb (1,427), Navy's Ricky Dobbs (1,192), and Nevada's Colin Kaepernick (1,183) ran for more yardage as a quarterback than Dasher. Troy's Brown had only seven net yards rushing but threw for 4,254 to Dasher's 2,789 passing.
-- DE Jamari Lattimore looks to be the leader on the defense for the Blue Raiders. He started all 13 games last year and had three fumble recoveries and 5.5 sacks, most among returnees for the Red Raiders.
QB Logan Kilgore -- A three-star recruit coming out of high school, Kilgore threw for 2,512 yards at Bakersfield (Calif.) College in 2009. He enrolled in time to take part in the spring and has established himself as the backup to starter Dwight Dasher after going 21-of-34 passing for 322 yards and two touchdowns in the spring game.
LB Stephen Roberts -- A redshirt freshman, Roberts began the spring at No. 1 on the depth chart in the middle and ended it being named the "most improved" linebacker.
WR Sancho McDonald -- McDonald staked a claim to a starting job with his performance in the spring. As a sophomore, he had 24 catches last year for 255 yards and two touchdowns.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "A lot of guys had good springs, and we gave out those awards at halftime, but nobody had a great spring. There were a lot of inconsistencies, a lot of mistakes. We have got a ways to go." -- Coach Rick Stockstill, assessing the Blue Raiders' spring session.STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
2010 OUTLOOK: The Red Raiders look to be one of the most explosive teams on offense with the return of QB Dwight Dasher. They were the first Sun Belt team ever to finish with 10 wins when they beat Southern Mississippi in last year's New Orleans Bowl to finish 10-3, and a repeat isn't out of the question.
SCOUTING THE OFFENSE: Dasher gives them a dual threat as a runner (1,154 yards rushing) and passer (2,789 through the air). The Raiders are solid up front with the return of four starters and at running back, where senior Phillip Tanner returns from a knee injury to join starter D.D. Kyles (857 yards in 2009). But there are depth issues at wide receiver.
SCOUTING THE DEFENSE: Four of the five lost starters on defense were in the front seven, which means the Raiders could have issues against the run and getting pressure on opposing quarterbacks. The top returnees are DE Jamari Lattimore, a second-team all-Sun Belt performer, S Kevin Brown (four interceptions), and S Jermey Kellem (three interceptions).
SCOUTING THE SPECIAL TEAMS: PK Alan Gendreau is one of the best in the conference. He was first-team all-Sun Belt after going 18-of-22 on field goals in 2009. But the Blue Raiders are looking for a new punter. Junior P Nathaniel Toulsen has had one attempt over the last two years and it covered 52 yards. Tanner has experience returning kickoffs, but the Raiders will have a new punt returner.
-- QB Brent Burnette, who played in eight games as a redshirt freshman backup last year, has decided to transfer. His biggest contribution last year came in the New Orleans Bowl win over Southern Mississippi when starter Dwight Dasher was hurt. Burnette completed two of three passes for 45 yards and a touchdown late in the third quarter of the Raiders' 42-32 victory.
-- OL Preston Bailey (6-5, 315), who sat out last year after transferring from Tennessee, worked at both tackle and guard in the spring. Coach Rick Stockstill still would like Bailey to lose a few more pounds before the season.
Previous Report: 02/05/2010