A first half to forget

With the first half of the season in the books, Middle Tennessee's 2010 campaign can be summarized quite well by the past two weeks. The scores have been nearly identical with the Blue Raiders giving up 42 points and scoring just two touchdowns in each game.

Those games and their accompanying scores are a microcosm of Middle Tennessee's season to date. In both, as well as the season in general, turnovers and the inability to create them have been the story. Middle Tennessee is last in the nation in turnover margin out of 120 programs. Frankly, a 2-4 record at the halfway point is probably better than it deserves with the worst turnover margin in the nation.

Perhaps the most difficult issue for Middle Tennessee fans to digest is the poor performance in the first half after such high expectations entering the season.

If we look at it a little closer just how realistic were those expectations to begin with? Yes, the team returned a lot of starters from last season's 10-win team, but there were some key departures particularly on the defensive line, linebacker and wide receiver. In each of those three positions no one has stepped up and played to the same level that each of those positions did a year ago. The offensive line – once projected to be strength – was ravaged by injuries in the first half on what seemed like a daily basis.

But there is likely a more pervasive issue that has affected this team more than anything else. It was within the coaching staff. Departing were both the offensive and defensive coordinators. Most didn't see it as much of a big deal initially. After all both of the new coordinators agreed to keep the previous offense and defense from the departing coaches. In hindsight, one has to wonder if that was the right move?

Given the poor performance by both units it probably wouldn't have mattered anyway. It's the coaches that have been missed not the philosophies. Randall McCrary took over the defensive coordinator duties from Manny Diaz who left for Mississippi State. Diaz, a highly energetic and passionate coach will be a head coach one day soon. He's one of the brightest young coaches in college football right now. It's difficult to replace his enthusiasm and passion that his defenses carried onto the field. Diaz perfected his pressure blitzing system at Middle Tennessee during his four-year stint in Murfreesboro, and there aren't many defensive coaches that have the stomach to take the chances Diaz did. His defenses used a high-risk, high-reward philosophy that worked out for the Blue Raiders more often than not.

On offense, all Mike Schultz has had to do is replace one of the most innovative offensive minds in all of college football in Tony Franklin. It was Franklin who sold high schools on his system all over the nation and helped lead a revolution of spread offenses that has saturated colleges and high schools over the past two decades. It's been a difficult transition for Schultz to employ Franklin's pass first offense with a historically run-first offensive mindset he leaned on as the offensive coordinator at TCU.

And of course, let's not forget the off-the-field issues created by Dwight Dasher's poor decision-making that led to his four game suspension and thrust two quarterbacks onto the field in his stead who had never taken a snap in a NCAA football game. It may be a while before we know just how much that situation has divided the locker room and distracted the team. The 2010 season had uncertainty written all over before the Blue Raiders ever took their first snap of the campaign. It started with the coaching departures and that loss in continuity was only magnified when Dasher was forced to miss the first quarter of the season.

There is good news for Blue Raider fans, however. It's at this same point last season when Middle Tennessee rolled off seven straight wins. The combined record of its remaining opponents is an embarrassing 9-28, but that's what you get entering the bulk of the Sun Belt Conference schedule.

Even with an easy remaining schedule, there are several games during the second half this Blue Raider team is capable of losing, especially if it doesn't solve a number of its problems that have led to an unexpected and disappointing 2-4 start to the season. It can begin by addressing the turnover situation. If it doesn't a winning season much less a bowl bid will be nothing but a distant fantasy of hype that began last December somewhere between New Orleans and Murfreesboro.

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