TIGER RAG PREVIEW: Middle Tennessee State

Today is the 13th installment of a 15-part series in which Tiger Rag previews LSU's opponents and other members of the SEC. Today, we spotlight the Middle Tennessee State Blue Raiders. Tomorrow, we look at the Tulane Green Wave.

Middle Tennessee State will try and continue their upward climb in the Division 1-A standings in 2007.


After enjoying their best season in Division 1-A last year going 7-6, the Blue Raiders went 6-1 in conference play and claimed both the Sun Belt title and a berth in the Music City Bowl.


This fall, the Blue Raiders will have to replace nearly half of the offense and defense if they hope to see the same success on the field they did a year ago, including the team's leading passer, rusher and top two tacklers.


On the upside for MTSU, this season's schedule could lend to more gridiron success. Other than match-ups with powers LSU and Louisville, the Blue Raider schedule will not be overly difficult in 2007.


As a team last year, Middle Tennessee State averaged 285.5 yards of total offense per game, and led the Sun Belt in scoring with 22.8 points per outing.


First and foremost on the offensive agenda this season is finding a new starter at quarterback to replace three-year regular Clint Marks. Topping the list of potential replacements at signal caller is junior Joe Craddock, who accumulated 75 passing yards in nine appearances last season.


The other side if the Blue Raider passing game welcomes back an intact starting trio at wide receiver in seniors Taron Henry and Jonathan Grigsby and junior Bobby Williams.


A year ago, Williams led the receiving corps with 36 catches for 378 yards and one touchdown, while Henry recorded 16 receptions for 247 yards and a touchdown of his own, and Grigsby pitched in with 319 yards on 24 catches.


Senior tight end Clinton Corder also returns as a regular in the passing game. As a junior, Corder had eight catches for 78 yards.


On the ground, senior tailback DeMarco McNair will be looking to fill in for departed Eugene Gross, the team's leading rusher in 2006 with 882 yards and 11 touchdowns.


Though not the team's leading ground gainer during his junior year, McNair had plenty on experience handling the football in 2006, tallying 139 carries for 586 yards and seven scores.


Middle Tennessee State's offensive line will have to find replacements at three of five spots this fall, with just senior center Brandon Nix and junior left tackle Franklin Dunbar returning as starters to the front five.


Looking to fill the gaps remaining in the trenches will be freshman Jamal Lewis at left guard, junior Richard Bortner at left guard and junior David Price at right tackle.


Defensively, the Blue Raiders gave up 23.2 points and 324.5 yards per game last year, though those numbers were inflated by a pair of tough losses to Oklahoma and South Carolina.


This year's squad will need to fill gaps at five positions from a year ago, including finding someone to take the place of linebacker J.K. Sabb, the team's leading tackler in 2006.


While replacing Sabb would be a chore in itself, MTSU will have to face the challenge of creating an entirely new linebacker unit this fall, losing Justin Rainey and Marcus Brandon as well.


The most experienced of the potential new starters at linebacker is junior Lonnie Clemons, who accumulated 22 sacks and one interception last season. Also looking to fill the void at linebacker are seniors Chase Dunleavy and Derek Shropshire.


Last season, the duo combined for three tackles, with Shropshire appearing in all 13 games and Dunleavy getting time in one contest.


While the Blue Raiders will be short on experience at linebacker, they will be loaded with it on the defensive line, welcoming back all four linemen from last year's squad.


Leading the list of returning linemen is senior defensive end Erik Walden, who led the team with 11.5 sacks a year ago to earn all-conference honors and set the school's all-time sack record at 20.5.


Opposite Walden at the other end is senior Tavares Jones, who managed 38 tackles and 5.5 sacks as a junior.


In the middle, junior Trevor Jenkins and senior Derek Mason will occupy the tackle positions after combining for 39 tackles last year.


In the secondary, half of the Blue Raider staff returns this fall, as MTSU welcomes back senior cornerback Bradley Robinson and senior free safety Damon Nickson. Nickson is the leading defensive returnee in tackles with 61 last season, when he also led the team with five interceptions.


Robinson had 37 tackles and two interceptions during his junior campaign.


Joining the defensive backfield in 2007 will be junior Alex Suber at the other corner back spot, and either Anthony Glover or Dana Stewart at strong safety.


Suber had 17 tackles in 11 appearances last season, while Stewart and Glover did not receive significant playing time.


On special teams, the Blue Raiders must find a replacement kicker this fall, with junior Matt King being the top candidate for the job, though he has yet to attempt a kick in college other than kickoffs.


The punter job will also be up for grabs in 2007, as unproven sophomore David DeFatta looks to get the nod to open the season.

Handling kickoff return responsibilities will be Damon Nickson, who managed a stellar 28.8 yard average for two touchdowns last season.

- Matt Dearman





All-Time Series: LSU leads 1-0

First/Last Meeting: 2001, LSU 30, Middle Tennessee 14


Location: Murfreesboro, Tenn.

Stadium: Floyd Stadium (30,788)

Conference: Sun Belt

Head Coach: Rick Stockstill, 7-6 at MTSU and Overall, 1 year





2006 Record: 7-6, 6-1 Sun Belt (T-1st)

Final '05 Ranking: n/a

Returning Starters: 12; 6 offense, 6 defense

Last Bowl Appearance: 2006 Motor City Bowl – Central Michigan 31, MTSU 14

Last Conference Championship: 2006





Total Offense: 285.54 ypg (6/104)

Rushing Offense: 131.15 ypg (4/59)

Passing Offense: 154.38 ypg (6/104)

Scoring Offense: 22.77 ppg (1/69)

Total Defense: 324.54 ypg (3/47)

Rushing Defense: 120.23 ypg (1/43)

Pass Defense: 204.31 ypg (7/63)

Scoring Defense: 23.23 ppg (23/63)





Rushing: DeMarco McNair – 139-586, 7 TD, 4.2 ypc, 45.0 ypg

Passing: Joe Craddock – 24-9, 75, 0 TD, 1 Int., 7.5 ypg

Receiving: Bobby Williams – 36-378, 1 TD, 29.0 ypg

Tackles: Damon Nickson – 60

Interceptions: Damon Nickson – 5

Sacks: Erik Walden – 11.5

Tackles for loss: Erik Walden – 14.5





Date                    Opponent                                      '06 Result

S-1                  at Florida Atlantic                     ---

S-6                  at Louisville                              L, 17-44

S-15                at LSU                                     ---

S-20                WESTERN KENTUCKY                  ---

S-29                FLORIDA INT'L                           W, 7-6

O-6                  VIRGINIA                                 ---

O-13                at Memphis                              ---

O-20                ARKANSAS STATE                     W, 38-10

O-27                at North Texas                         W, 35-0

N-3                  at Louisiana-Monroe                  W, 35-21

N-10                LOUISIANA-LAFAYETTE              W, 34-20

N-20                at Troy                                   L, 20-21



Offense at a glance:


One of the most efficient and disciplined offenses in the Sun Belt Conference last year, the Blue Raiders return six starters and 14 lettermen from that unit in 2007.


The biggest question marks for MTSU will be finding a replacement for quarterback Clint Marks, two new starters on the offensive line, and all-conference running back Eugene Gross who ended his career as one of the top scorers in school history.


Fighting for the position will be Joe Craddock, Patrick Jackson, Salin Simpson and Gene Delle Donne. Craddock, a junior, is the favorite to win the job.


Senior DeMarco McNair has been patiently waiting for his opportunity and 2007 will be his time to shine. Known for his tough running, McNair rushed for a career best 586 yards last year to go with seven touchdowns and 16 receptions.


The top five leading receivers from last year all return, including the trio of Bobby Williams, Taron Henry, and Jonathan Grigsby. Williams led the Blue Raiders with 36 receptions as a sophomore but suffered with inconsistency all season.


The Blue Raiders return three starters off last year's unit that helped produce the Sun Belt's highest- scoring offense and must find replacements for all-conference performer Germayle Franklin and the steady Marcus Gates and Paul Cantrell. Leading the way up front will be returning starters Franklin Dunbar, Brandon Nix, and Mark Thompson.



Defense at a glance:


Middle Tennessee's defense loses five starters off of last year's surprising group but will still welcome back a wealth of talent. The Blue Raiders return six starters and 17 lettermen, along with the leader in quarterback sacks, tackles for loss, and interceptions.


The defensive line returns in tact. Last year's unit accounted for 22 sacks, 54 tackles for loss, and eight forced fumbles while leading the SBC in rushing defense.


Headlining the group is all-conference ends Erik Walden and Tavares Jones.


Walden is coming off a career year in which he totaled a school-record 11.5 sacks to rank 10th nationally, and 14.5 tackles for loss. Jones turned in a career season as well with 38 stops, 9.5 tackles for loss, and 5.5 sacks.


All three starting linebackers from 2006 are back, including all-conference picks J.K. Sabb and Justin Rainey, will not return. Sabb and Rainey were the team's top two tacklers from a year ago.


Bradley Robinson, a three-year starter at corner with nine career interceptions, rates as one of the best at his position in the SBC. Senior Damon Nickson is back to man the free safety spot after registering the best season of his career in 2006.

- Matt Deville

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