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October 4, 2009The Palladium will be on the line when Middle Tennessee and Troy face off Tuesday night at Troy, but something much bigger than a rivalry trophy might be at stake as well.
The Blue Raiders and Trojans will be competing for early Sun Belt supremacy and the chance to sit in the conference title chase driver's seat.
GoMiddle.com breaks down who and what to watch when the two rivals tee it up.
THE BIG STATS
RUSHING YARDAGE- Both teams love to pass the ball, but it's probably not a coincidence that the team that has rushed for the most yards has won the last five games in the series. Middle Tennessee has not rushed for even 100 yards against Troy since 2005, the last time the Blue Raiders defeated the Trojans. While both teams want to make big plays through the air, each side will need to be able to move the chains on the ground in key situations. The team that does it better will be in position to win.
SACKS AND HURRIES ON LEVI BROWN- The Blue Raiders have to be able to pressure Trojan signal caller Levi Brown. He is very accurate when he is able to sit in the pocket and calmly go through his progressions. MT has to put some heat on Brown and get him on the ground a few times to help prevent him from gaining any consistent comfort level.
MT HITS ON BIG PASSING PLAYS- Troy's secondary has had some struggles in the early part of the season. The Trojans had to replace every starter from 2008 and the growing pains have been evident. Troy has surrendered nine touchdown passes and has only intercepted two passes through its first four games. Opponents are averaging 12.1 yards per reception against the Trojans and opposing quarterbacks have put up a pass efficiency rating of 148.03 against the Troy secondary. If the Blue Raiders strike for long yardage through the air, it will be a sign that Troy is still having problems in the defensive backfield and that MT's offensive line is able to protect Dwight Dasher.
TROY'S DEFENSIVE ENDS ARE NEUTRALIZED- Trojan defensive ends Cameron Sheffield and Brandon Lang are a terror of a tandem. The two playmakers have a knack for disrupting offenses in the backfield. Both are seniors and fit nicely in with the Troy tradition of having stellar athletes in the front seven. If the television and P.A. announcers don't say their names very often - particularly early in the game - then there is a good chance MT's offense will be effective.
YOU'LL KNOW IT'S GOING POORLY IF...
JERREL JERNIGAN HAS EXPLOSIVE PLAYS- Jernigan is a threat to touch the ball as a runner, receiver, and kick returner and he is good at all three aspects. With MT's struggles covering kicks, Blue Raider fans will have to hold their breath when Jernigan catches a kickoff. Troy will work to get the ball in his hands early and Jernigan will be wanting to have a breakout game after a relatively slow start to the season so far. If he gets turned loose against the Raiders, the climb to victory will be much more uphill.
MT LOSES IN THE TRENCHES- Troy's defensive front seven is arguably the Sun Belt's best and features great players both along the line and at linebacker. It will be a challenge for MT to run block and pass block against the athletic group. On the flip side, the Raiders have to generate some penetration against Troy's offensive line, a group that averages nearly 310 pounds per man. It should be pretty clear in the first quarter which side is winning the physical battles at the line of scrimmage. That will also be a good indicator of the ultimate outcome.
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