Bowl Season

MAC vs. Sun Belt Mobile, Ala.
Ladd-Peebles Stadium
Jan. 6
8 p.m.

MTSU beat writer Adam Sparks, of the Daily News Journal in Murfreesboro, Tennessee, was nice enough to answer some questions about the Blue Raiders. 

BS: The Blue Raiders were 3-6, but won their last 3 to advance to a bowl game. What changed over the last quarter of the season?

Adam Sparks: Turnovers. Turnovers. Turnovers. MTSU was 10-3 last season, in part, because it had the nation's 8th-best turnover margin. This season it had the nation's worst turnover margin, but that changed in the last three games. Overall, MTSU lost the turnover margin in all six losses this season. It won the turnover margin in five of six wins (lost it in win over FCS foe Austin Peay). MTSU had a plus-4 turnover margin in five FBS wins and minus-16 in six losses. In a loss to Memphis, all 24 points allowed came off turnovers. There were similar stats in other games. If MTSU had an even turnover margin, its record would probably be about 8-4 or better. It won the last three games because it finally forced turnovers (and scored on them) and limited its on giveaways. As simple as that.

BS: Dwight Dasher was suspended for the first 4 games of the season. What has the suspension meant to the offense over the course of the year? Also, who are his top weapons and what can Dasher bring to the game?

Adam Sparks: MTSU already had a new offensive coordinator (Mike Schultz, previously of TCU and Illinois). When Dasher was suspended, a pair of JuCo QBs had to each make their Division I debuts. And then when Dasher returned, he was a turnover machine. When Dasher finally cut out the turnovers, the team started winning. When Dasher is playing well, he can put up 100-200 rushing yards and/or 200-300 passing yards. When he is playing poorly, he turns it over and kills drives. Aside from Dasher, MTSU's running game has been good. Three running backs — Phillip Tanner, DD Kyles and Ben Cunningham — share carries, and a good line drives the offense. MTSU is at its best when it's going up-tempo and mixing run and pass.

BS: The defense was up and down. What do they need to do to stop the potent Miami passing attack? Also, who are some key players to watch for?

Adam Sparks: Also a new coordinator on defense (Randall McCray, previously an asst. at Wisconsin). The run defense has been bad. The pass defense has been OK. MTSU has a potent pass rush, led by athletic defensive end Jamari Lattimore, the Sun Belt defensive player of the year. MTSU also has a veteran secondary, led by senior safeties Jeremy Kellem and Kevin Brown and senior cornerback Rod Issac. When the pass rush is applying pressure, the secondary is good at snagging turnovers. When the pass rush is sluggish, teams can hit MTSU for chunks of yardage. The weakness is the young linebacking corps, but it has gotten better of late.

BS: If you could choose one player to have a breakout performance in the bowl game, who would it be?

Adam Sparks: That's a tough one, but I'll say wide receiver Malcolum Beyah. He had a big freshman year, but followed with a sophomore slump and didn't even play offense in last year's New Orleans Bowl. Beyah has been hit-or-miss this season (mostly a hit) and remains MTSU's best big-play threat. I could see Beyah catching a deep ball and maybe breaking a couple of long catch-and-run plays. He's a speedster and could give Miami's secondary some trouble.

Thanks a lot to Adam Sparks.

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