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September 24, 2009

MT at North Texas: Who and what to watch

Middle Tennessee hopes to improve to 3-1 on Saturday in Denton against North Texas, a start that would be the Blue Raiders' best since 2001.

The challenge won't be easy against a much improved North Texas squad, but the Raiders go into Fouts Field as about a touchdown favorite.

GoMiddle.com breaks down who and what to watch when the ball is kicked off in Denton.

THE BIG STATS

TURNOVERS- It's arguably the biggest stat in any game, but the turnover battle will be especially important this weekend. MT's offense was very effective last week at Maryland, but only when it wasn't turning the ball over. The Blue Raiders should be able to maintain control of this game as long as the offense doesn't hurt itself with giveaways. That means Dwight Dasher plays under control and Blue Raider running backs handle the ball soundly with the more experienced Phillip Tanner still out with an injury. On the flip side, MT's defense has the potential every week to torment opposing offenses with takeaways. If the Blue Raiders win the turnover battle, they will win the game. If not, North Texas will have a chance to win in the fourth quarter.

RILEY DODGE'S TOTAL OFFENSE- The North Texas quarterback returns to action after missing last week's game against Alabama. Dodge has some talent around him, particularly running back Cam Montgomery, but the Mean Green's offense will go as Dodge goes. He had 289 yards of total offense in a season opening win over Ball State and had 127 against Ohio before leaving that game with the left shoulder injury that forced him to miss the Alabama game. His dual threat skills pose a challenge and MT has to keep him from controlling the game on his own.


YOU'LL KNOW IT'S GOING WELL IF...

DASHER PICKS UP WHERE HE LEFT OFF- Were it not for Dwight Dasher's stellar performance on the game winning drive at Maryland, most fans would probably have bad memories of his play in College Park. But Dasher did lead that final drive and looked like a seasoned leader while completing four straight passes and managing the clock well down to the final two seconds. If Dasher opens up the North Texas game with a couple of drives at least closely resembling the same efficiency he showed on the final drive at Maryland, all signs will indicate a good day for the offense.

CAM MONTGOMERY CAN'T BALANCE THE MEAN GREEN OFFENSE- Riley Dodge is the engine that makes the North Texas offense go, but Montgomery is a key factor when he plays well. The senior tailback has the potential to post some big numbers, but MT can take a big step toward victory by slowing him down early and isolating the North Texas attack to a one man threat (Dodge).

YOU'LL KNOW IT'S GOING POORLY IF...

THE GAME IS LOW SCORING- MT's offense has been very productive against North Texas in the last three meetings, but this year's Mean Green defense is improved. However, the Blue Raider offense should be able to put up points if it takes care of the ball. If the game is low scoring into the third quarter, that means the Raiders will have turned the ball over some, missed on some red zone opportunities, or a combination of both.

NONE OF MT'S RUNNING BACKS PLAYS WELL- The ground game is a big X-Factor right now with Tanner out of action. The Raiders experimented last week with getting Desmond Gee some carries and will probably do the same this week. D.D. Kyles did some productive things against Maryland and head coach Rick Stockstill has said he wants to get true freshman Benjamin Cunningham on the field more as well. Any of the three are capable of a quality game both running and catching, but none of the three are proven consistent enough in the ground attack to feel confident about exactly what they will produce. The Raiders need at least one of them to contribute a successful performance.

QB Riley Dodge, 6-0/193, Redshirt Freshman
THE NUMBERS: 66 percent completion percentage, 333 passing yards, 2 TDs
WHY HE'S IMPORTANT: Dodge is the engine that makes the Mean Green offense go. His ability to command the North Texas version of the spread makes him ever dangerous.
BEST CASE: Dodge has at least one element of his game (running or throwing) contained to make him more one dimensional, and he turns it over a couple of times.
WORST CASE: Dodge returns with a vengeance after missing last week's game and hurts MT with both his arm and legs.
RB Cam Montgomery, 6-1/218, Senior
THE NUMBERS: 46 carries for 245 yards and 2 TD
WHY HE'S IMPORTANT: Montgomery steadies the North Texas offense by anchoring the running game. He is also a factor catching passes out of the backfield.
BEST CASE: MT holds Montgomery significantly below his 5.3 yards per carry average, keeps him out of the endzone, and prevents him from balancing out the passing attack.
WORST CASE: Montgomery makes big plays both running and receiving and proves to be a go to player inside the 10 yard line to finish off drives.
LB Tobe Nwigwe, 6-2/240, Senior
THE NUMBERS: 31 tackles, 5 TFL, 1 forced fumble
WHY HE'S IMPORTANT: Nwigwe is the cornerstone of the North Texas defense and one of the top overall defensive players in the Sun Belt.
BEST CASE: Nwigwe doesn't make any truly game changing plays, such as forcing a costly fumble or intercepting a Dasher pass.
WORST CASE: Nwigwe will almost certainly pile up tackles, but if he is constantly crashing through into the backfield and getting his hands on the football, MT will be flirting with disaster.
CB Royce Hill, 6-0/177, Sophomore
THE NUMBERS: 14 tackles, a fumble recovery, and 2 INT
WHY HE'S IMPORTANT: Hill is a ball hawking cornerback that is a very difficult matchup because of his size.
BEST CASE: Hill intercepted a pass against Ball State and Ohio, so MT will do well to avoid that same fate.
WORST CASE: Hill not only is a threat to make an interception, but he usually returns them for big yardage as well. He could very reasonably record a pick six.
WR Jamaal Jackson, 5-10/163, Junior
THE NUMBERS: 11 catches for 128 yards and a touchdown
WHY HE'S IMPORTANT: Jackson is the Mean Green's leading receiver and arguably top big play threat.
BEST CASE: MT contains the speedy wideout and prevents him from making any plays of 30 or more yards.
WORST CASE: Jackson strikes for a couple of big plays and is joined by a balanced receiving unit that gives Dodge multiple reliable options on each throw.


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