This off-season many Blue Raider fans have focused on the quarterback battle as the key to MTSU's success. One position that may have been overlooked is the kicking game. How important is the kicking game? All one has to do is look back to Middle Tennessee's first game of the season in 2006 to determine the importance of this aspect of the game. Florida International opened the scoring with a 12 yard touchdown run by Julian Reams. On the next play Chris Patullo missed the PAT. Later in the game Middle Tennessee scored on a 33 yard TD run by Eugene Gross and Colby Smith hit the PAT, which became the final margin of victory for the Blue Raiders.
In that same game Colby Smith came in to punt with less than 7 minutes left to play. Smith nailed a 79 yard punt to pin FIU deep in their own territory and basically sealed the game for the Blue Raiders. The Blue Raiders used this momentum to secure a conference co-championship while the Panthers ended the season winless and eventually fired Coach Don Strock.
The common theme in this game was Colby Smith. Unfortunately for Coach Rick Stockstill, he will no longer have the services of Smith due to graduation.
Tidbits: Coach Stockstill believes so strongly in the kicking game that he offered high school senior Michael Zacco a scholarship in 2006, the same year Middle Tennessee signed only 13 players. Zacco has since left MTSU and thus left a huge hole in the kicking game.
Who to watch:
Matt King- King is a redshirt junior from Valdosta, GA. He possess a strong leg. He handled kick-off duties for the Blue Raiders in 2006, with 8 total touchbacks. He has never attempted a field goal as a Blue Raider.
Richard Billings- Billings is a sophomore from Memphis, TN. He transferred to Middle Tennessee from Alabama St. where he handled kickoffs and occasionally punted.
Richard Billings- Billings will also be in the hunt to be the Blue Raiders next punter.
The kicking game can very possibly hold the key to another successful Blue Raider season. If this group of inexperienced players can produce, then the season very well can be successful. On the other hand, these guys are unproven. If they are not able to get the job done look for many tough on-the-field decisions for Coach Stockstill and his staff.