Inside Hilltopper Sports will be visiting with WKU's upcoming opponent's beat writer each week to give our reader's more insight on the game. This week, IHS caught up with GoMiddle.com publisher Randall Thomason for his thoughts on the Blue Raiders.
What are some things to look for on offense and defense?
There's a big question for MTSU right now, as far as how are they gonna be able to run the ball. Their most productive runner has been Dwight Dasher, the quarterback. That's partly because he's just a god runner and that's partly because they lost Phillip Tanner, who was their senior starting running back, in the second game. He's out for the year after hurting his knee against Memphis. They wanna be able to run the ball, but they don't wanna have to rely so much on Dasher to do it. The key for them is gonna be how effective are they running the ball and how much of that load does Dasher have to carry. They've moved Desmond Gee back to tailback. He had been a wide receiver and played both positions during his career. Calling him an everydown back would be a little bit of a stretch, because he's a small guy, not particularly effective between the tackles. He's first on the depth chart at RB and right behind him is a true freshman. There's gonna be a lot of questions as to how effective they can be running the ball the rest of the year. Other than that, the main thing I watch for from their offense is the tempo they move at each week. Tony Franklin, the offensive coordinator is really big on tempo. He likes to play at times, extremely fast. Their base is out of the no huddle and they run it at varying tempos.
With the player suspensions last week, what's going on off the field
There certainly was a lot going on during their bye week. They played at Troy on Tuesday two weeks ago, got beat pretty handily and came back from that game and I guess over the next few days had some incidents happen off the field. Dasher and Mark Thompson, the starting center skipped a conditioning workout and they were suspended for the first quarter of the Mississippi State game. The incident that was more widely publicized was the arrest of Patrick Honeycutt, a starting receiver, as well as Gorby Loreus, a backup linebacker and a walk-on quarterback, arrested in alcohol-related crimes. They were suspended for that game. That's on top of the injury problems they were already facing, including Tanner being hurt and D.D. Kyles, who had started at running back, he was also out. They're still missing Malcolm Beyah as well, who caught a touchdown pass against WKU last year. He's not gonna be playing Saturday either, with an injured thumb.
How has Dasher improved this season?
He started out really well. He didn't play particularly well at Clemson, but that's probably not a fair game to judge him on. After that game, he went on a stretch of three straight weeks where he played very impressively with wins over Memphis, Maryland and North Texas. The last two games, he's taken a significant step back, not only with his on-field performance, but him missing that workout raised som issues with the fan base about what type of leadership character he has. He's had a streaky year that I'd say has been up and down for the first half of the season. he's one of those guys that when he's up, he can look like a real dominating force, but when he's down, he looks pretty down. He threw three interceptions against Mississippi State that were all three pretty bad throws. He needs a bounce-back game.
How much is the offense dependent on Dasher?
When you just break down their total offense and consider the yards he's thrown for, as well as the yards he's accounted for running, he's responsible for an enormous percentage of their offense. Four games in, he was responsible for more than 75 percent of the total yards. He's the driving force behind it and that's even more the case now, because they don't have Tanner, who is a reliable, every-down back and they're also missing Beyah and that extra level of speed in their wide receiving corps. Their receivers right now are not particularly a fast group with Beyah out and moving Gee from wide receiver to tailback. With the changes they've made because of the injuries, it seems to make the burden on Dasher that much heavier.
Cam's had a good year. I don't know if I would consider him the focal point of the defense. They have Danny Carmichael at middle linebacker, who's the guy I consider the catalyst for the defense. He kinda controls everything in the middle of the field, the on-field leader of that defense. Robinson's had a good year and I think he's been somewhat of a surprise to some people because he's a senior. Up until this year, his career had been largely disappointing, I would say. The fact that he leads the team in tackle is certainly a boost because there were a lot of questions about the linebackers going into this year, other than Carmichael. I still think everything starts with Carmichael, he and defensive tackle Brandon Perry, who doesn't have outstanding numbers, but has been a space eater and has raised his level of play. Perry and Carmicahel are where it all starts.
Going back to last year, coach Rick Stockstill kinda downplayed the WKU/MTSU rivalry. Has it been the same this year and what's the team's approach?
I remember Stockstill making those remarks. I don't know who got in his ear, but I think somebody did. He's sung a little bit of a different tune this year. He'll never say that one game is more important than another, but he's said some things this week referring to what the game means to the university community and the alumni base. When he made those comments last year, there wasn't anything controversial in his tone of voice, but when people saw them in print, I think they were just taken aback a little bit. The fans do view WKU different than any run of the mill game. He may not have realized that because the rivalry in football had been dormant for a couple of decades, until 2007. This week, he had a team meeting and emphasizing that this game is special to the alumni and the university. He'll say they're preparing for it like any other game.
Has MTSU used WKU's win in 2007 as any motivation?
I've seen it brought up a little bit and I think that's just because they've been asked about it. I think that question was brought up at their weekly press conference Tuesday. I don't think it would've come out unless they were asked about it. I don't think Stockstill is using that as a rallying cry but I do think it was used by the players last year. They went up to Bowling Green really determined that they didn't drop two in a row to Western. I think it's just something they're asked about because people remember that game very well.
InsideHillltopperSports.com would like to thank GoMiddle.com publisher Randall Thomason for taking time to help us dissect MTSU a little better. After the MTSU game, catch InsideHilltopperSports.com's extensive post-game, with a full game wrap and audio from coach David Elson