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October 29, 2008

Bye week musings: 10 season shaping plays

With no game to look forward to this week, we instead take a look back at the first two-thirds of the season that have now gone by.

Every season has a few plays - both good and bad - that define the year.

Through eight games, which plays have so far defined the season for the Blue Raiders?

For bye week musings, we've picked the ten plays that most stand out as the season enters its home stretch.

**Plays are listed chronologically**

Opponent: Troy (Game #1)
What happened: Facing 4th-and-Goal from the three yard line with less than four minutes remaining in the first half, Rick Stockstill elected to go for a touchdown with his team down 14-3. Dwight Dasher rolled to his right but was hit from behind and fumbled. Troy defensive end Steve McLendon scooped the ball and returned it 67 yards down to the Blue Raider 21 yard line. That resulted in a field goal before halftime for Troy and pushed the Trojan lead to 17-3.

Opponent: Troy (Game #1)
What happened: After starting the fourth quarter down 24-3, Middle Tennessee staged a furious rally that brought the Blue Raiders within a touchdown of potentially forcing overtime. With still almost six minutes remaining, the MT defense had a chance to force a quick punt with Troy facing 3rd-and-4 from its own 27 yard line. Trojan quarterback Jamie Hampton swung a quick pass out to Jerrel Jernigan, who appeared to be going down for a loss when he was hit by cornerback Alex Suber. Jernigan slipped away though and ended up getting a critical first down. The drive stayed alive and Troy ultimately scored a game clinching touchdown.

Opponent: Maryland (Game #2)
What happened: Facing 4th-and-5 from just beyond midfield on the opening drive of the game, Stockstill dialed up some trickery with a called fake punt. David DeFatta hooked up with tight end Alvin Ingle for 28 yards and a first down inside the red zone. That set up an eventual touchdown pass from Joe Craddock to Sancho McDonald and gave the Blue Raiders an early lead on their way to an upset.

Opponent: Maryland (Game #2)
What happened: On Maryland's second drive of the third quarter and with Middle Tennessee holding a 10-7 lead, Blue Raider middle linebacker Danny Carmichael intercepted Chris Turner at the 30 yard line and returned it all the way inside the 10 yard line to set up an eventual fourth down touchdown run by Phillip Tanner. Carmichael's interception helped put the Blue Raiders up by two possessions and generated even more momentum on the Middle Tennessee sideline and in the Floyd Stadium stands.

Opponent: Maryland (Game #2)
What happened: The Terps had just struck for a touchdown on an 80-yard pass from Turner to star wide receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey and closed Middle Tennessee's lead to 17-14 late in the third quarter. But the Blue Raiders answered in similar fashion on their very next drive. Just four plays after Heyward-Bey's touchdown, Craddock connected with freshman standout Malcolm Beyah on a short third down pass. Beyah turned a short pass into an explosive touchdown by making a tackler miss and then turning on the after burners. The touchdown gave MT a 10 point lead again and on top of it all, Beyah ran away from all defenders even after losing a shoe.

Opponent: Kentucky (Game #3)
What happened: After holding a lead for a signifcant portion of the second half, the Blue Raiders appeared to have an opportunity at victory slipping away when Kentucky lined up for a field goal in the closing seconds with a 20-14 lead. A block by Suber gave MT one final chance and the Blue Raiders nearly pulled off a stunner. Craddock rolled to his right on the last play of the game and heaved a long pass toward the end zone. Beyah went up for the ball around the 15 yard line and deflected backwards into the arms of Eldred King. King turned to run for the end zone for what could have been a game winning touchdown, but Kentucky's Robbie McAtee extended his right arm at the last second to trip King up as he lunged inside the one yard line.

Opponent: Florida Atlantic (Game #5)
What happened: On a Tuesday night at Floyd Stadium in front of a national television audience, it looked for a long time like Middle Tennessee was going to put on a disappointing display. But the Blue Raiders got a spark with 5:22 remaining when Craddock connected with Patrick Honeycutt for a 25-yard touchdown on 4th-and-3. Had the Blue Raiders not converted, the game would have essentially ended, but Craddock lofted the pass down the seam and Honeycutt made a diving catch to secure the score and keep late hope alive.

Opponent: Florida Atlantic (Game #5)
What happened: The Owls had just driven inside the Middle Tennessee 10 yard line but had to settle for a field goal with 1:15 remaining to push their lead to 13-7 over the Blue Raiders. With little time to work with, Craddock took his team down the field and ultimately in position for the offense to take a final shot at the end zone. With time running down, the Blue Raiders got off one final play and Craddock launched a desperation pass toward the goal line. The play, called "Hope" by MT offensive coordinator G.A. Mangus, worked perfectly as Beyah outjumped all defenders in the end zone to pull down one of the most amazing catches in the program's history. Alan Gendreau's subsequent extra point sealed a 14-13 victory.

Opponent: Florida International (Game #6)
What happened: A sloppy first half in which the Blue Raiders gained only 76 yards of offense still ended with FIU holding onto just a 10-3 lead. But on the first series of the second half, MT's road to victory became a lot more difficult when FIU's Anthony Gaitor returned a Craddock interception 27 yards for a touchdown and 17-3 lead. With the offense struggling to find answers, the two touchdown margin seemed huge and ultimately proved too difficult to overcome in a 31-21 setback.

Opponent: Louisville (Game #7)
What happened: After a Jeremy Kellem interception return gave Middle Tennessee a 7-0 lead and linebacker Ivon Hickmon also picked off Louisville quarterback Hunter Cantwell, the Blue Raiders smelled a big opportunity to go up by two scores. Stockstill and Mangus cooked up a perfectly executed trick play, with Craddock tossing a backwards pass to wide receiver Patrick Honeycutt, who then launched a pass downfield to Tanner for a touchdown. The play put the Blue Raiders ahead 14-0, although Louisville ultimately came back to win.

With four games still remaining, there are bound to be more key plays that become planted in fans' minds, but the 10 listed above will likely remain as vivid images long after the 2008 season ends.


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