Quarterly Evaluations Pt. 1

Three games in and this team is still a mystery to me, but then again I'm not exactly alone in that. The Blue Raiders started the season with a thud, but have showed improvement in each game since. Unfortunately, those wins came against two of the worst teams in the FBS, so it's hard to say exactly what to look for the rest of the season. I'm still gonna give it a try though.

Three weeks in and Middle Tennessee is sitting with a 2-1 record. In any other season, that might be a positive, but a lot of Blue Raider fans expected Rick Stockstill to be leading an undefeated team into Atlanta next Saturday. Unfortunate, McNeese State saw to it that that dream was not to be in the season opener – aided heavily by a sloppy Blue Raider defense.

Since then the Blue Raiders have seemed to improve during each outing. Part of that could be the talent level of the opponent themselves, but you can't simply lean on that to offer up a full explanation. For example, the Blue Raider offense has increased their total points in all three games this season:

• vs. McNeese State – 21
• vs. Florida Atlantic – 31
• @ Memphis – 48

It's no surprise that the increase in points has coincided with an uptick in total yards – although it isn't quite as graph-friendly as the point totals. See the figures for total yards below:

• vs. McNeese State – 343 yards (240 passing, 103 rushing)
• vs. FAU – 480 yards (178 passing, 302 rushing)
• @ Memphis – 439 total yards (260 passing, 179 rushing)

Based on those, it's clear to see that since the opener the offense has found its groove … and that groove is called the run game. (More on that tomorrow …)

Astute readers at this point will notice that the largest point total doesn't coincide with the most total yards. If so, well done. If not, don't worry. I didn't notice at first either, but I think I have a good idea as to why.

There's one other key stat that seems to be improving each game and that is turnovers. The Blue Raiders coughed the ball up three times in the opener. Then against FAU, they managed to cap the carnage after two early fumbles. They then reduced that number to just one fumble against Memphis.

Now I realize it's hard to say for certain whether or not the difference in highs in yardage and points is directly related to the amount of turnovers, but it's certainly easy to make a case for that on the surface. After all, if you keep drives alive all the way to the endzone, that's going to be less total yards used to score that same amount of points.

Hopefully that's clear enough. If not … hit me up on the board.

Middle Tennessee's defense has also improved since week one, although the total yards isn't necessarily indicative of that. McNeese State gained a total of 450 yards in the opener, while FAU accumulated 356 and Memphis racked up 399. Those numbers in and of themselves aren't insanely different, so it must be something else …

To me, the biggest difference in the defense has come in the intensity with which they seem to approach each game. I know that isn't a measurable stat, but anybody who saw that opener knew they came out flat.

Since then, they've stepped it up a bit and done exactly what Stockstill wants them to: keep the other team from scoring less than the offense. I realize that's a dumb statement, but when you consider this is a program that identifies itself as an offensive-minded team, that's the defense's sole purpose. And they've done it exceedingly well over the past couple of weeks.

Stay tuned for the individual quarterly evaluations coming tomorrow …

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