It was supposed to be a coming out party for Middle Tennessee last season. Instead, it was a major step backward. The Blue Raiders were hosting perennial Sun Belt Conference contender Troy and just got star QB Dwight Dasher back from an NCAA-mandated four-game suspension.
In a game in which MTSU was supposed to serve notice to the rest of the Sun Belt, the Raiders got served instead, losing by a 42-13 margin in a game that was nationally televised.
That was then. This is now. And, for the Raiders, one of the good things about having a young and inexperienced team is that many of the key personnel on this roster didn't play huge roles in last season's disheartening rout by Troy.
Whatever happens, Middle's offensive line will be put to the test. The Blue Raiders entered their open date as one of five Football Bowl Subdivision teams that had yet to surrender a sack. But now here comes Troy and star DE Jonathan Massaquoi, who led the Sun Belt in sacks and tackles for loss last season.
"I don't know what everybody else has got, but he's by far the best defensive end we will have faced this year," Middle coach Rick Stockstill said of Massaquoi.
Troy has been more successful than any Sun Belt team in recent years, but enters this game with a 0-2 record -- just like Middle Tennessee.
--Middle Tennessee has pushed into the opposing territory on 15 of 25 drives through two games, but converted just seven of those opportunities into points. Curiously, MTSU is 4-for-4 in the red zone thus far this season.
--Expect the Blue Raiders to get RB Ben Cunningham the ball with more regularity. Cunningham is averaging just 17 touches per game through MTSU's first two contests. Coach Rick Stockstill has expressed a desire to get the ball in Cunningham's hands more often, but the lopsided nature of the 49-21 loss to Georgia Tech forced MTSU to turn almost exclusively to the pass.
--Stockstill is still one victory shy of tying Andy McCollum for fourth on Middle Tennessee's all-time win list. Stockstill currently has 33 wins as Blue Raiders coach. However, Stockstill is 0-5 all-time against Troy.
Middle Tennessee leads Troy 11-7 (last meeting, 2010, 42-13 Troy).
SCOUTING THE OFFENSE: Middle Tennessee spent its off week fine-tuning the offense heading into a crucial Sun Belt contest against Troy. RB Ben Cunningham said the extra work was needed to defeat a Troy team that sports a five-game winning streak against the Blue Raiders. MTSU has yet to allow a sack thus far this season, one of five teams in the FBS to hold that distinction heading into the week of Sept. 24.
SCOUTING THE DEFENSE: MTSU basically had to go back to square one to prepare for Georgia Tech's tricky triple-option offense, but has had two weeks to essentially re-install its aggressive, blitzing, gap-attacking base defense.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "I know the Troy (defensive) front is better than the Purdue front and better than the Georgia Tech front. They are a lot faster and they'll bring a lot more pressure. The first two were good tests, but I think this will be their biggest challenge." -- Middle Tennessee coach Rick Stockstill
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
THIS WEEK'S GAME:
Middle Tennessee at Troy, Sept. 24 -- Two of the Sun Belt's more successful teams in recent years enter this game with identical 0-2 records. Middle Tennessee is looking to end a five-game losing streak to Troy that has encompassed Rick Stockstill's entire coaching tenure.
KEYS TO THE GAME:
Get Troy's offense off the field. In last season's meeting, a 42-13 victory by Troy on MTSU's home field, the Trojans converted eight of 16 third downs. Middle Tennessee has to cut down on that ratio, especially with Troy hosting this year's contest between the two Sun Belt rivals.
PLAYERS TO WATCH:
DE Jiajuan Fennell - The redshirt freshman has made an instant impact for MTSU. Through two games, he leads the team in tackles for loss, forced fumbles and fumble recoveries and his seven tackles rank second among all Blue Raider defensive linemen.
PK Alan Gendreau - One of MTSU's top weapons heading into the season, Gendreau already has missed more field goals that he had in all of 2010, going 1-of-4 coming off last season's 109-for-12 performance. Gendreau needs to get back on track.
OT Mike Williams - Slated to make his 39th career start, Williams needs to continue to be a bedrock of stability on a line where the Blue Raiders have endured a revolving door at the other four positions due to injury.
--LB Darin Davis is expected to make his 16th consecutive start when Middle Tennessee takes on Troy.
--LB Justin Allen (thumb) is considered doubtful for this week's game while recovering from a broken thumb that's sidelined him for the entire season to date.
2011 CFN Sun Belt Week 4 Game Recaps, Standings, Roundup, &…