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November 9, 2009Middle Tennessee's 2006 team included three of the top 10 pass rushers in school history, including the all time sacks leader in Erik Walden.
That team set a school record for sacks in a single season with 36, but that record is in sight for the 2009 Blue Raiders as the season turns to the final home stretch.
The Raiders have 25 sacks through nine games this season, a pace that would result in 33 sacks over the course of 12 games but would reach 36 sacks if MT makes a bowl game and is able to play a 13th game.
Head coach Rick Stockstill has been very pleased with his team's pass rush, which has racked up four more sacks than the second best number in the Sun Belt.
However, Stockstill is stopping short of declaring this year's pass rush equivalent to or better than the one he enjoyed in his first season as head coach in 2006 that featured defensive ends Walden and Tavares Jones.
"To me, you judge or compare teams at the end of the year," Stockstill said. "I think right now our guys are playing with great effort and usually sacks come because of effort, just a want to, a real drive and real competitiveness to get to the quarterback and never give up and never quit. We will wait and see (how they stack up) after the season.
"We are probably using more players (this year). We have more players to use in the front seven than the 2006 team. Really we relied on Tavares and Erik and Justin Rainey (in 2006). Now we've got Chris (McCoy), Jamari (Lattimore), Brandon (Perry), Cam (Robinson), Danny (Carmichael), (Emanuel) Perez, and others. It seems like we have more guys contributing than we had in that first year when it was Tavares, Erik, Justin Rainey and just a few guys there."
Stockstill makes a good point about the depth of this year's pass rush.
Walden far and away led the 2006 team in sacks with a single season school record 11.5.
This year's team likely won't have anybody reach double digits in sacks, but the Raiders already have seven players that have been credited with more than one sack. The 2006 team only had five players all season credited with more than one sack.
The balance in the pass rush makes MT very difficult to block, which helps Stockstill and defensive coordinator Manny Diaz game plan every week to try to upset the rhythm of the opposing quarterback.
"You've got to make the quarterback uncomfortable," Stockstill said. "You've got to stop the run obviously first but anytime you can get around the quarterback, put pressure on him, or sack him then you can disrupt his comfort level and make him move his feet a little bit. That always helps you. You've got to stop the run and put heat on the quarterback to have success."
To equal the school record, MT needs 11 more sacks over the course of the rest of the season, a mark that is doable but will be tough to accomplish in the regular season.
MT's final three conference opponents combined average allowing less than 1.3 sacks per game (See inserted chart).
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