MURFREESBORO, Tenn. - Middle Tennessee tallied 34 unanswered points behind a strong performance on the ground, led by quarterback Dwight Dasher, and was able to hold on for a 48-21 win Saturday afternoon against visiting FIU in front of 17,808 at Floyd Stadium in Murfreesboro, Tenn. The victory secures bowl eligibility for the Blue Raiders with three games remaining in the regular season.
Middle Tennessee finished with 385 rushing yards, the fourth-highest total in a school history, and the third-straight contest in which the Blue Raiders surpassed the 200-yard plateau. Dasher ended the game with 178 yards on the ground, while adding 182 through the air on 13-of-28 and two touchdowns.
Dasher went untouched one play after a self-inflicted fumble for the game's first score at 11:35 on a 70-yard scamper to put the Blue Raiders ahead, 7-0. He dropped back on the previous play and lost 10 yards when he lost control of the attempted pass, only to recover his own miscue. However, the Golden Panther defense could not stop him on the ensuing play when he broke free for the touchdown run.
Jeremy Kellem got a hand on the FIU punt to cap the next opponent drive, giving Middle Tennessee good field position. Four plays later, Dasher located Sancho McDonald from 27 yards out for the second touchdown of the opening quarter at 10:03.
Two possessions later, Patrick Honeycutt returned a punt 47 yards setting the Blue Raider offense up at the Golden Panther 21. He took the kick, spun out of a tackler's grasp, and went down the home sideline for a career-long return. The FIU defense kept MT out of the endzone; however, Alan Gendreau's 33-yard field goal increased the lead to 17-0 with 4:00 remaining in the first 15 minutes.
As the clock turned to the second quarter, the Golden Panthers' Dustin Rivest lined up for a 44-yard field goal try. MT defensive tackle Dwight Smith slipped through the line to block the attempt and keep the shutout alive at 14:47. The Blue Raiders wasted no time in tacking on their next touchdown. Dasher handed off to Desmond Gee, who raced to the home sideline. Gee then stopped, turned and tossed the ball back to Dasher across the hash marks and the quarterback took off down the visiting sideline, eluding a pair of potential blocks along the way, for a 67-yard dash and increasing the Blue Raider advantage to 24-0.
Dasher managed to make another big play in the second quarter, when he appeared to be tackled near midfield by a FIU rush. However, the signal-caller slipped through a tackle long enough to shovel a pass to D. D. Kyles. Kyles escaped the Golden Panther defense and took the ball down to the FIU 16. Three plays later, Dasher looked to his left and found Honeycutt standing all by himself just inside pay dirt for a nine-yard completion, pushing the margin to 31-0 at 8:34.
One of the last Middle Tennessee (6-3, 4-1 Sun Belt) drives of the half was halted at the four-yard line; however, Gendreau connected on a 21-yard field goal at 3:21 for a 34-0 Blue Raider lead. Kyles started the possession with a 25-yard run, while Dasher had three carries for 28 yards on the drive. MT moved the ball 65 yards on 12 plays during the possession but was unable to punch it across the goal line one more time in the first half.
Just before halftime, FIU was able to erase the shutout. Wayne Younger tossed a 47-yard strike to Jason Frierson moving the Golden Panthers inside the Blue Raider 10. Kendall Berry crossed the plane three plays later for the visitors' first score with only 24 seconds remaining in the half and pull FIU within 27, 34-7, as the teams entered the intermission.
The opening drive of the second half for the Blue Raiders resulted in an interception. O'Darris D'Haiti picked off Dasher and sprinted to the eight-yard line. Two plays later, at 13:35, Berry rushed into the endzone to cut the deficit to 20, 34-14, on a five-yard gain. The Golden Panthers continued their momentum when Jeremiah Weatherspoon grabbed another Dasher pass along the visitor sideline at the FIU 15-yard line.
Middle Tennessee stopped the drive, forcing a punt. Honeycutt coughed up the return, but Sherman Neal pounced on the loose ball to keep it under Blue Raider control until David DeFatta punted the ball back to the Golden Panthers.
Berry proceeded to put the FIU (2-7, 2-4 Sun Belt) offense on his back during the next drive. He went 38 between the hashes for his longest gain of the afternoon before cutting the gap again on a four-yard run around the right end at the 3:51 mark of the third quarter to make the score 34-21.
Dasher's second half troubles continued to plague him. He threw his third interception of the quarter at 3:15, as Jonathan Cyprien dove for the ball near midfield and was able to retain possession as he hit the ground. The turnover did not result in additional points for the Golden Panthers, who had to punt the ball back once again.
The Blue Raider signal-caller was able to turn things around on the next drive, leading MT to its next drive. He hurled 29-yard pass to Chris McClover, who made an acrobatic catch at the one-yard line. Dasher then snuck the ball just inside the front left pylon at 14:10 of the fourth period as Middle Tennessee built its lead back to 20, 41-21, behind its first score of the second half.
After the teams traded possessions, Kellem intercepted Younger at the 8:18 mark at the Blue Raider 19-yard line for the second Golden Panther turnover of the day. MT was unable to convert it into any type of score. Marcus Udell picked off Younger on FIU's first play after a punt, giving Middle Tennessee the ball at the visitors' 30-yard line.
The final points were tacked on at 1:39 when Benjamin Cunningham sealed the 48-21 score, as he went around the right end on a 42-yard carry for his first career touchdown. Udell grabbed his second pick of the day on the last FIU play with three seconds left.
The Blue Raiders continue their three-game homestand with a 3:15 p.m. kick next week against Louisiana at Floyd Stadium. The contest will be broadcast live on Comcast/Charter Sports Southeast (CSS).
Middle Tennessee Postgame Notes:
BOWL ELIGIBLE: With Middle Tennessee's win over FIU ran its record to 6-3 which is the best start to a season since 2006 when the Blue Raiders competed in the Motor City Bowl. The six wins now make Middle Tennessee bowl eligible.
DASHER TOPS 100 ... AGAIN: Junior QB Dwight Dasher went over the 100-yard rushing mark for the second time in as many games and the third time for his career. Dasher registered 178 yards on 18 carries against FIU after recording 108 yards on the ground last week at FAU. Dasher came up just short of his career-best of 180 yards set against Memphis in 2007. The most 100-yard rushing games by a quarterback in school history is four by Marvin Collier from 1985-88.
DASHER BREAKS COLLIERS MARK: Dwight Dasher rushed for 178 yards against FIU to break Middle Tennessee's single-season rushing record by a quarterback. Dasher ran his season total to 703 yards to break the previous mark of 594 set by Marvin Collier in 1985.
BACK-TO-BACK FOR KELLEM: Junior Jeremy Kellem recorded his second block in as many weeks when he rejected FIU's first punt attempt in the second quarter to set up a Blue Raider touchdown. Kellem now has four for his career which ties Markee Tate for the most blocked punts in school history.
BLOCK MACHINES: After blocking three kicks in last week's win at FAU, Middle Tennessee came back to block two more against FIU. The Blue Raiders blocked a punt and a field goal to give them seven blocks on the season which is a new FBS record for MT. The previous best in the I-A era came in 2002 when the Blue Raiders blocked five. The Blue Raiders have blocked four field goals and three punts and the four blocked field goals are the most in the FBS era. Under Rick Stockstill, the Blue Raiders have now blocked 13 kicks (6 punts, 6 FGs, 1 PAT) and the Blue Raiders have 33 total blocks in the FBS era (13 FGs, 12 punts, 8 PATs).
DASHER JUMPS IN TOP 10: Dwight Dasher's two touchdown passes against FIU moved him into the top 10 on the single-season list. Dasher now has 13 touchdown passes on the season to take 10 places away from four other players. Dasher now has 24 for his career and is 10th on that list by himself.
CARMICHAEL OWNS SEASON/CAREER MARK: Senior linebacker Danny Carmichael was credited with two forced fumbles in the win over FIU to give him six for the year and nine for his career. Both totals are school records with the previous career mark of seven held by Mike Caldwell (1989-92).
RAIDERS GROUND OUT 300: Middle Tennessee went over the 300-yard rushing mark for the first time under Rick Stockstill when it grounded out 385 yards in the win over FIU. The 385 yards goes down as the fourth most in school history for a single-game. It also marks the first time since Middle Tennessee made the move to I-A football in 1999 that it has gone over 200 yards rushing in three consecutive games.
QUICK STRIKE RAIDERS: Middle Tennessee entered the FIU game tied for second nationally in scoring touchdowns and field goals within two minutes. Houston was the overall leader with 23 (20 TDs, 3 FGs) while California (17 TDs, 4 FGs) and MT (13 TDs, 8 FGs) were tied with 21. The Blue Raiders will likely move up the list with five against FIU (4TDs and 1 FG).
DASHER IN RARE AIR: Junior Dwight Dasher became the first player in Blue Raider history to throw for more than 2,000 yards and rush for more than 500 yards in a single-season. Dasher came into the FIU game needing 153 passing yards to accomplish the feat and he finished the game with 182. For the year, Dasher now has 2,029 yards passing and 703 yards rushing.
HONEYCUTT PASSES YOUELL, TIES SAINTIL: With three receptions against FIU, senior Patrick Honeycutt ran his career total to 106 receptions. Honeycutt passed David Youell for eighth place on the all-time list and tied Cleannord Saintil for seventh place.
MCCOY IN TOP 10: Senior Chris McCoy moved into the top 10 on the single-season tackles for loss list at Middle Tennessee with 3.0 against FIU. McCoy ran his season total to 13.5 which passed three other players for sole possession of 10th place.
QUICK HITTERS: Middle Tennessee has now won four straight games in the month of November ... MT is a perfect 5-0 at home against teams from Florida under Rick Stockstill ... MT has now won five straight conference games at home ... DT Dwight Smith recorded the first blocked kick of his career when he rejected a field goal in the second quarter ... Alan Gendreau's first quarter field goal was the 13th of the season and that ties him for fifth on the single-season list ... Patrick Honeycutt registered a career long 47-yard punt return to break his previous best of 15 yards ... Senior Mark Thompson played in his 46th career game today against FIU, one shy of the Blue Raider FBS record of 47 set by Trevor Jenkins ... WR Sancho McDonald recorded his second touchdown catch of the season when he hauled in a 27-yard strike from Dwight Dasher ... Patrick Honeycutt's second quarter touchdown reception was the sixth of his career ... Dwight Dasher is now 10-4 all-time as the starter at quarterback ... The home team has now won all five games in the MT-FIU series ... Senior Marcus Udell picked off his team-leading fifth pass of the year before adding another late in the fourth quarter against FIU and now has five picks in the last three games ... Freshman Justin Jones recorded his first career sack late in the fourth quarter.