QUICK LOOK: Idaho at Middle Tennessee

This week the Vandals hit the road in a Sun Belt Conference tilt against runningback <b>Eugene Gross</b> and the Middle Tennessee State University Blue Raiders. Middle Tennessee (2-4, 1-2 SBC) returns home this weekend and will be looking to rebound after a tough road loss 52-16 at #22 Florida last Saturday.<br>

One of the few teams in the Sun Belt Conference that is even remotely close to being as young as the team Idaho is fielding this year is MTSU. Granted, most of their youth is comprised of redshirt freshmen and sophomores, where Idaho is fielding upwards of 15 true freshmen, but the Raiders are still young none-the-less.

For a young group, they still fit the MTSU mold of big and fast athletes we've come to expect from the Raiders. The team is led by head coach Andy McCollum, who has comprised a 27-36 record while leading the Blue Raiders into Division 1-A (often as heavy underdogs to powerful SEC teams).

It seems like a million years ago that MTSU and Idaho joined the fledgling Sun Belt Conference, and were hailed as the favorites to battle for the inaugural conference crown. While Idaho struggled, MTSU came one game short of winning a conference championship their first season.

Neither team has made a dent in the conference race since. That being said, there have been some nail-biters between these 2 teams. In 2001, Idaho went out to Murfreesboro and the 2 teams combined to score what, at the time, was an NCAA Division 1-A record 128 points in the game as Idaho lost 70-58 (and no, there was no overtime involved in that one). The last 2 years, the game has been decided by a touchdown or less, with MTSU winning last year in overtime 28-21 in the Dome.

But 2004 is a new year, Idaho is sporting an entirely new coaching staff, and there is a ton of new player personnel on the team. The same can be said for many positions on the Raider roster. This will be, most likely, the last game between these two teams for awhile as Idaho moves out west to join the Western Athletic Conference next season in all sports.

But first, the Vandals will be looking to knot this series at 2 games apiece, and as a result move up in the Conference standings.

L.G. Patterson / AP Photo
Middle Tennessee head football coach Andy McCollum.

Phil Sandlin / AP Photo
Starting Raider QB Clint Marks .
About the Raiders

MTSU's 2 victories have been in the season opener at Akron (MAC) 31-24, and at home against Arkansas State 45-17. They've lost at home to Florida Atlantic (27-20), at Louisiana-Lafayette (24-17), at North Texas (30-21) and at Florida (SEC) 52-16. The defense tends to flex in the second half of games, making solid halftime adjustments. Overall, MTSU's young defensive backfield is giving up about 300 yards passing per game, but they are stingy on the ground, giving up just 140 yards per game rushing (Idaho is 4th in the conference in rushing yards per game, averaging 132 YPG). The Raiders defense is fourth in the conference in sacks with 11 on the year (Idaho is 2nd with 13).

Offensively, MTSU is lighting things up as they are currently second in the conference in scoring offense (25 PPG), 1st in passing offense (310 YPG), #1 in pass efficiency (147.4...UI #3), and 2nd in the conference in 1st downs (131...Idaho is 4th with 121). This could be an interesting matchup, given the Idaho defense is giving up 37 PPG (but JUST 18 PPG in SBC play), and 241 yards per game through the air.

Both MTSU and Idaho are penalized a middle-of-the-pack average of 66 yards per game. MTSU is 6th in the Conference in turnover margin (-3), while Idaho is tied for 1st (+4).

MTSU leads the league in redzone offense (87%...UI is 75%), and both teams have given up a gaggle of sacks this year (MTSU 21, UI 23).


QB Clint Marks, Soph: The 6-2, 187 pound RS-So out of Florida leads the league in passing, having thrown for 1,742 yards in 6 games, averaging 290 YPG. He's thrown 8 TDs, and 8 INTs, while completing 76% of his passes (Harrington has 5 TDs, 6 INTS, and has completed 69% of his throws). He's also gained 124 yards rushing this year.

WR Kerry Wright, Senior: The 5-9, 175 pound RS-senior out of Georgia leads the league in every receiving category, averaging 111 YPG, with 6 TDs, a long of 80 yards, and 50 catches on the year. Kerry may be one of the best pro prospects in the Sun Belt this year.

RB Eugene Gross, Soph: The 5-9, 212 pound RS-So out of Georgia is 5th in the league, rushing for 53.3 YPG (Idaho's Jayson Bird is 4th in the Conference averaging 86 YPG). Last year in the Dome Gross rushed for a career-best 141 yards.

DT Thomas Johnson, Senior: The 6-2, 293 pound RS-Senior out of Memphis, TN is leading the team in sacks (3), and tackles for loss (6.5). He has 25 tackles on the year (5th on team). He's one of 2 seniors on the Raider defensive line, playing next to noseguard Jerry Vanderpool (6-3, 308), and between ends Dvarick Scandrett (6-4, 262, Jr) and Sean Mosely (6-3, 250, Fr). This is a big, physical group, and the Idaho offensive line will have to be ready for a battle.

WILL Marcel Horne, Soph: The 6-1, 218 pound RS-So out of Georgia leads the Raiders with 37 tackles on the year. He's part of an athletic, quick linebacking corp for the Raiders.

MIKE Alvin Fite, Sr: The 6-0, 230 pound senior out of Nashville, TN is second on the team in tackles (37), has 4 tackles for loss, 2 pass breakups, and has recovered 2 fumbles.

S Jonathan Harris, Soph: The 5-10, 201 pound true-So out of Montgomery, AL is 3rd on the team in tackles (29), with 3 tackles for loss and a sack. Also keep an eye out for Bradley Robinson, who is a RS-freshman out of Duncan, South Carolina with 2 interceptions on the year. The defensive backfield for MTSU is very young (almost all RS-Fr and sophs in the 2-deep depth chart), but you can take it to the bank that they will be fast and savvy.

K Colby Smith, Soph: The 5-9, 180 pound true-So out of Franklin, TN is the #1 kicker in the conference, having hit 8 of 9 attempts this year with a long of 41 yards. He's perfect from 20-29 yards (3-3), perfect from 30-39 yards (4-4), and has hit 1-2 from from beyond the 40 yard line. He's also perfect on 18 PATs for the year. As a punter, he's 8th in the conference averaging 38.5 yards per boot.

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