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December 1, 2008Middle Tennessee hits the road for the final regular season game of 2008 with a clash against Louisiana-Lafayette Wednesday night.
With bowl eligibility on the line, the stakes are high for both teams.
This week's Dime Package breaks down 10 thoughts and observations about the pivotal showdown.
1) MEANINGUL FINALE-For the third straight year under Rick Stockstill, Middle Tennessee will play a very meaningful regular season finale game when the Blue Raiders face Louisiana-Lafayette. In 2006, Middle Tennessee closed the regular season at home against Troy with a Sun Belt championship at stake. Last year, they were on the road at Troy hoping to reach six wins and bowl eligibility. This year, they will again hit the road seeking bowl eligibility in the final regular season game, but a win this year would yield a much better bowl chance than last year. Just playing meaningful games at the end of each year shows improvement over where the program was when Stockstill took over. Middle Tennessee's season finales from 2002-2005 had nothing more than pride on the line, with the exception of 2004 when the Blue Raiders played at Troy and a win would have given them a winning season.
2) EXPECT A TIGHT ONE-If history is an indicator, expect a tight game Wednesday night. MT and ULL have met every year since 1999 with the Ragin Cajuns holding a 5-4 series edge. The average margin of victory has been less than 10 points and two games have gone into overtime. MT's most lopsided win in the series was a 26-9 win in 2001. ULL's most convincing win came in 1999 when it won a 45-31 decision.
3) DOUBLE TROUBLE MAKING HISTORY-ULL running back Tyrell Fenroy and quarterback Michael Desormeaux combine to form one of the country's most dynamic tandems. Fenroy has gotten plenty of attention for topping 1,000 yards rushing for the fourth straight season, but Desormeaux can go over 1,000 rushing yards for the second straight year if he totals just seven yards against MT. If Desormeaux and Fenroy hit the 1,000 mark for the second straight year, they will make ULL just the third program in history to post two 1,000 yard rushers in back-to-back seasons.
4) DOES FAMILIARITY HELP SLOW FENROY?-Fenroy is about to cap another very impressive season and he has earned his rightful spot at the top of the Sun Belt's best all time running backs, but league teams have generally done a better job of slowing him down. In his last five conference games, Fenroy has only gone over 100 yards one time (he topped 100 yards three times in five non-conference games). He has still managed to reach the end zone plenty of times though regardless of his yardage totals. Fenroy has nine rushing touchdowns in six Sun Belt games and eight rushing scores in five non-conference games. His receiving numbers are substantially lower in Sun Belt games. Fenroy has just 41 receiving yards in the six Sun Belt games. In non-conference games, Fenroy racked up nearly 200 receiving yards. He has 243 career rushing yards and 57 career receiving yards in three matchups with MT.
5) WATCH OUT FOR SPECIAL TEAMS-MT will undoubtedly work on protecting its kickers this week because ULL annually has one of the best kick blocking teams in the country. Since head coach Rickey Bustle's first year in 2002, ULL ranks third nationally with 34 blocked kicks. The Ragin Cajuns have blocked two kicks this year (both extra points).
6) IT USUALLY TAKES A LOT OF POINTS- Beating ULL typically requires a lot of offense and this year is no different. The Ragin Cajuns are 21-9 all time in Sun Belt games when they have held opponents to less than 30 points. Only once in the history of the series has MT beaten ULL while scoring less than 30 points (2001). In all but one of their losses this year, the Ragin Cajuns have surrendered more than 30 points. The only exception was a 20-17 road loss at Illinois back in September.
7) DEFENSE ON THE PROWL- Middle Tennessee's defense has been vicious in the last three games, all Blue Raider wins. The defense has recorded 32 tackles for loss, 15 sacks, two blocked kicks and forced six turnovers. ULM's 21 points is the highest point total given up in the current three game winning streak.
8) PICTURE OF EFFICIENCY- While MT quarterback Joe Craddock hasn't quite maintained the nearly unbelievable pace he started the season with, he has been riding a very efficient five game stretch since a disappointing effort at Florida International. In the last five games, Craddock has completed 90 of 148 passes (60.8 percent) for nearly 1,100 yards, six touchdowns and just one interception. His lowest efficiency rating in the last five games was 114.5 at Louisville and his highest was 172.2 against ULM. Craddock is 315 passing yards away from setting a new single season school record.
9) HONEYCUTT CLOSING STRONG- After a slow start, junior receiver Patrick Honeycutt has had a very consistent final stretch of performances in 2008. In his last eight games, Honeycutt has had at least three catches in each outing while catching five or more passes in four games. Honeycutt has only had one 100 yard receiving performance this season (113 vs. Florida Atlantic) but he's had four games of 60 or more receiving yards. Considering MT has thrown for nearly 250 yards per game in the series history with ULL, Honeycutt could be primed for a big season finale.
10) WINNING FIELD POSITION- MT has won the battle for field position in each game of its current three game winning streak. The Blue Raiders had better average starting field position against ULM (by 1 yard), Western Kentucky (8 yards), and North Texas (6 yards). That is thanks to many things, including good special teams play. Punter David DeFatta has pinned 13 punts inside the 20 yard line this season and has kicked exceptionally well during the three game winning streak.