Missed opportunities cost Blue Raiders

Each week we'll review Middle Tennessee's game as the Blue Raiders drive for a Sun Belt Conference Championship and fourth bowl appearance in the past six years.

Middle Tennessee snatched defeat from the jaws of victory after squandering a late fourth quarter lead against Purdue on Saturday at Ross-Ade Stadium in West Lafayette, Ind. The Blue Raiders trailed only once (10-7) and lead 24-17 before allowing 10 unanswered points in the game's final five minutes. Logan Kilgore showed flashes of brilliance behind center making some remarkable throws in route to 300 yard plus passing performance, and the defense stymied the Boilermaker's offense for the first 45 minutes of the game. The Blue Raiders allowed only 10 points on 58 plays through the first three quarters but surrendered 182 yards and 17 points in the fourth quarter.

The offensive unit certainly missed opportunities to put the game away in the second half before Purdue put together three consecutive scoring drives. However, the offensive line showed why many considered it a position of strength in the offseason. The rushing attack only produced 3.9 yards per carry, but that could have easily been better had all three tailbacks not missed some reads and opportunities to break bigger gains. Protection was adequate and Kilgore showed outstanding pocket presence to avoid blitzing Boilermakers and getting rid of the ball when things broke down. That led to no sacks and only three negative plays all day. Purdue brought blitzes on almost every third down that disrupted Middle Tennessee's offense quite a bit, so the line and backs will need to do a better job of picking up blitzes going forward.

Speaking of Kilgore, he made only one mistake all day. That mistake resulted in an interception and cost the Blue Raiders a potential scoring chance. Overall, he showed exceptional gamesmanship and knowledge of what Purdue was doing defensively. He'll need to be careful not to be baited into throwing into tight spaces against Georgia Tech. The Yellow Jackets will certainly watch film on how Kilgore threw into coverage before defenders got their head around. Most importantly, Kilgore did what Stock wants his quarterbacks to do. Protect the ball and take what the defense gives you. The one element missing from the playbook was the deep ball, but that may have been more about what Purdue was doing defensively than what Middle was doing offensively. Nevertheless, only once did the offense throw the ball further than 30 yards down the field and that was the second to last play of the game on the drop by Beyah in the back of the end zone. Kilgore has the ability to stretch the field and it should be an element of this week's offensive game plan to help open up the run.

The much talked about defensive line played with a chip on its shoulder against Purdue. Aside from the failed blitz attempt on Purdue's final touchdown, the blitz package was extremely effective at harassing Purdue quarterback Caleb Torbush and the front seven established itself early in being a disruptive factor with the Boiler's run game. The defensive line played very well up front using its speed and technique to outplay Purdue's offensive line for much of the first three quarters. However, depth and the hot weather conditions finally wore down the Blue Raiders defensive unit as it gave up 17 points on Purdue's final three possessions including the only two big plays given up by the unit all day. Despite the hearty effort by the Big Blue defense, the unit could have put the icing on the cake but missed on three easy turnover opportunities that likely could have sealed the win for Middle Tennessee but instead breathed life into Purdue's fading chances. Both Derrick Crumpton and Omar McMclendon dropped balls that hit them square in the hands in the second half. And both probably would have been returned for touchdowns. Neither will probably ever see an easier opportunity for a pick six than they got Saturday. Two Middle Tennessee defenders also knocked the ball from each other and ultimately out of bounds after a great read and forced fumble by Marquise Dixon on a misdirection play.

Other individual standouts included Craig Allen who made numerous plays from his linebacker post and Eric Russell's play that earned him Sun Belt Conference Defensive Player of the Week honors.

Special Teams
Looking back it may have been Purdue's special teams play that won the game. Although, Alan Gendreau will get credit for two misses including the block on the final play of the game, it was Purdue's all around special teams play that kept Middle Tennessee's offense routinely pinned with its back against the wall. Rarely did Kilgore and company have good starting field position and this certainly limited the playbook to some degree and with that scoring opportunities. Special teams play, particularly kick coverage must also improve if Middle Tennessee is going to compete for a championship in 2011.

For it being the first one of the year, it was a well-played game. Obviously, there were a lot of missed opportunities on both sides, but the Blue Raiders played good enough to come away with a win. There were simply too many missed opportunities that put Purdue in a position to sneak out with a win and that's exactly what they did.

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