I traded Q&As with Adam Sparks, who covers Middle Tennessee for the Daily News Journal in Murfreesboro. You can catch up on all the news at MTSU on the DNJ
Here’s a link to Adam’s blog: Subtle Sparky
Here’s Adam’s take on this weekend’s game:
1. How has MTSU’s running game changed with Benny Cunningham out?
MTSU has moved to a run-first offense this season, and that has not changed with Cunningham’s injury. But it does affect its effectiveness. Freshman Jordan Parker, LSU transfer Drayton Calhoun, redshirt freshman Jeremiah Bryson and sophomore Reggie Whatley will all get carries Saturday. None of them are to the level of Cunningham, but they are capable backs. Parker and Calhoun each rushed for 100 yards versus FAU when Cunningham was out with a different injury earlier in the year. What MTSU loses with Cunningham’s absence is some big-play ability. Cunningham was not only deceptively fast, but he also broke tackles to spring long runs. Where Cunningham might break a 30-yarder, Parker can go 15 or 20. So the ground game is still strong, just not as strong as before.
2. Who are the players MTSU will look to to take Cunnngham’s place?
The foursome of Parker, Calhoun, Bryson and Whatley will share carries. Parker is a big, tall back who can run well between the tackles. He’s the closest to a short-yardage back MTSU has with Cunningham out. Calhoun is a big-play guy, but he hasn’t shown it much lately. Whatley is a speedy scat-back who usually lines up at receiver. Bryson is still trying to find his niche, but coaches like his all-around skills.
3. Is this close to the same team that beat Georgia Tech?
Not quite. Cunningham was the stud in the Georgia Tech game. He not only churned up more than 200 yards, but he also served as the morale-booster in that game. Every time he ran over a couple of Georgia Tech defenders, and the offensive line and players along the sideline reacted. They miss his leadership, his big plays and his bruising runs. But this is still a solid team, especially after recovering from last season’s dreadful 2-10 record.
4. How big is this game for MTSU?
Very big. I think if MTSU wins this, it goes to a bowl. That would give the Blue Raiders five wins, and they still have South Alabama on the schedule. If they lose this one, it will be tough to get to bowl eligibility. Aside from beating South Alabama, they would have to get a win at WKU, at Arkansas State or at home against Troy, who has beaten MTSU six straight times.
5. How do you see this game going?
My colleagues at the paper picked North Texas to win. I picked MTSU in a close one. I think it’s a toss-up game. I think both teams will run the ball well. I feel like MTSU to get a few big plays in the passing game, but the Blue Raider pass defense has been in a slump lately. It comes down to turnovers and special teams. I’ll go with MTSU because of a blocked kick or long return. MTSU 24, North Texas 21