A Q&A With MTSU Publisher John Turner

Scout.com Middle Tennessee State University publisher John Turner of BlueRaiderZone.com answered a few questions that GenesPage.com subscribers had pertaining to Middle Tennessee State University.

First of all I want to welcome all the Mississippi State fans to Murfreesboro. We have a great city, we have a nice campus, and we have some great fans. I really think you will enjoy your game day experience at Middle Tennessee.

GenesPage.com Subscribers: The Blue Raiders have been a Jekyll and Hyde team this year. They beat Memphis handily, then lost to Troy later in the season. Why are they so up and down?
BlueRaiderZone.com Publisher: First of all, Troy is a much better football team than Memphis. Troy is also a rival who has had our number over the past 3 years.

We lost our top returning running back, Phillip Tanner, in the Memphis game. Since that time, quarterback Dwight Dasher has had to handle the majority of the offense for us with no real rushing attack except for what he can generate. Dasher is an exciting player, but he goes in streaks. If he is hot, our offense is hot. But it works in reverse also. In the 1st half of the Troy game Dasher looked slightly worse that many high school QB's. Our offense couldn't generate any first downs. Our defense played well, but they were worn out at halftime, thus, the 2nd half blowout at Troy.

GenePage.com Subscribers: Do you think Middle Tennessee will be able to get back up from the loss against Troy last week?
BlueRaiderZone.com Publisher: Our team is the product of our coach, Rick Stockstill. They have truly taken on his personality. Coach Stock is a "one game at a time coach". He will have no problem getting them focused on the game this Saturday.

GenesPage.com Subscribers: Last week, the MTSU defense gave up 264 rushing yards to Troy's offense. MSU will have to have a similar effort if we hope to win this weekend. What will they do hold the running game in check, especially Anthony Dixon?
BlueRaiderZone.com Publisher: As I stated earlier, our defense was at a huge disadvantage against Troy because our offense could not move the ball. Our defense was on the field longer than they should have been.

With that said, rushing defense is not the strength of the Blue Raiders. Anthony Dixon is a stud. In my opinion this is the key to the game.

Defensive coordinator Manny Diaz has built this defense around speed. Our defensive line is undersized and they use their quickness to make plays. Diaz also knows he will not shut Dixon down. Dixon is just too good. I am sure the gameplan is to load the line of scrimmage and try to limit Dixon, forcing the Bulldogs to go to the air. The Blue Raider secondary is the strength of the defense and I believe Diaz likes the way we match up through the air more than how we match up against the Bulldog rushing attack.

GenesPage.com Subscribers: Do the MTSU fans think they have a chance to win this game? If so, what do you think are the keys to MTSU winning the game? BlueRaiderZone.com Publisher: We always think we have a chance to win every game we play.

Here are the 3 keys to a Blue Raider win (besides the normal coach speak about winning the turnover battle, limiting penalties, etc).

  • 1) Limit Dixon- There is no stopping him, but limit his rushing yards.
  • 2) Blue Raider QB play- The Blue Raiders run a quick hitting, spread offense. If the QB can get into rhythm then the offense clicks. If he does not, it creates a lot of 3 and outs without taking much time off the clock.
  • 3) Special teams- The Blue Raiders have given up way too many yards on kickoffs and punt returns. They have to find a way to limit Miss. St. in this area.

    GenesPage.com Subscribers: What is the crowd size expected to be for this game? Will it be sold out or less?
    BlueRaiderZone.com Publisher: This is the question all Blue Raider fans are asking. Johnny "Red" Floyd Stadium holds around 31,000. It has never sold out. I would guarantee a sell out if the gametime had not been moved to 11:30. For a more established program a gametime change is not a big deal. For an up and coming program like Middle Tennessee, the time change really makes a difference. I would guess we will have at least 29,000. I would not be surprised to see a sell out, but I, along with the Middle Tennessee administration, really have no idea at this point.

    GenesPage.com Subscribers: How big of a deal is it to the fans/students/team that an SEC school is coming to your stadium? And is this the first SEC team to play in your stadium? Also, do you think it will be a different atmosphere than you would typically see at a home game due to having as your opponent an SEC team?
    BlueRaiderZone.com Publisher: This is a huge deal for Middle Tennessee. In the past couple of years we have hosted ACC teams (Maryland and Virginia), but this is SEC country. The casual fans in this area recognize SEC teams and they follow that conference. To many of our casual fans this is a statement game. I'm not talking about on the field of play. By having the first SEC team come to Murfreesboro this tells the casual fan "Middle Tennessee belongs with the 'Big Boys'".

    I don't know what to expect the atmosphere to be. We generally have a great gameday atmosphere. I do know Miss. St. will bring the largest group of visiting fans ever to visit our stadium. This will certainly change the dynamics a little.

    GenesPage.com Subscribers: Can I bring my cowbell? Or will there be security in the stands waiting to confiscate it like they did at the Vandy game?
    BlueRaiderZone.com Publisher: Bring your cowbells. I take mine to every home game.

    We have already been warned of the noise the Bulldogs fans will make with their cowbells. I think most fans welcome it. Unlike a heated rival, I think most Blue Raider fans are wanting to see how the Miss. St. fans (and cowbells) impact the game.

    GenesPage.com Subscribers: I've seen reports that MTSU has struggled on punt and kick returns; how has MTSU's punt and kick coverage fared?
    BlueRaiderZone.com Publisher: Very much so. The Blue Raiders gave up a 97 yard TD to C.J. Spiller of Clemson on the opening play of the season. Jacoby Ford ran a punt back for a TD in that same game. Every time we kick off or punt I think most Blue Raider fans hold their breath. Our coverage has improved as the season has progressed, but there is still a lot of room for improvement.

    GenesPage.com Subscribers: It has been mentioned by many that Dasher is a better runner than passer yet the numbers argue against that. Would you say he's better at running or passing the ball?
    BlueRaiderZone.com Publisher: He is a more consistent runner. He has a great arm, but his accuracy has been sporadic.

    GenesPage.com Subscribers: Joe Craddock was an outstanding QB. How has his replacement, Dasher, been able to fill that loss?
    BlueRaiderZone.com Publisher: Craddock was a great player for Middle Tennessee. He was also a great leader. Dasher was not much of a leader early on, but he has made vast improvement over the past few weeks.

    Craddock was a more accurate passer than Dasher, but Dasher has more mobility. In 2007 Craddock got hurt and missed half the games. Dasher started the games while Craddock was hurt. The Blue Raider fan base was split on who they wanted to lead this team.

    GenesPage.com Subscribers: Where is MTSU's main recruiting base? Is it localized in Tennessee or does it go to the region as a whole?
    BlueRaiderZone.com Publisher: We are going to secure the Tennessee borders first, but there are usually not many FBS prospects in Tennessee. We may sign 3 - 5 a year from Tennessee. From there we really look to Florida and Georgia. Without doing the math, I would say 75% of our players are from Florida or Georgia. Our entire secondary is from Florida.

    GenesPage.com Subscribers: What is the enrollment of MTSU? How does this compare to the other Tennessee state universities?
    BlueRaiderZone.com Publisher: Middle Tennessee has over 25,000 students. We actually have the largest enrollment of undergrads of any university in Tennessee. We are larger than Memphis. We have more undergrads than the University of Tennessee. If you add in UT's post graduate students, then UT is slightly larger than Middle Tennessee.

    GenesPage.com Subscribers: What is the MTSU fans opinion of UT? Do they pull for them or against them?
    BlueRaiderZone.com Publisher: This varies from person to person. Middle Tennessee moved to the FBS in 1999. Before that time most people in this area did not recognize them as a big-time player in college athletics although the Blue Raiders were very successful in D-1AA. For this reason many people in this area grew up UT fans (Knoxville is 3 hours away from Murfreesboro). It has been a constant battle to get the local people to view Middle Tennessee as playing in the upper level of college football.

    Most of your die-hard fans view UT as a rival. We have only played each other once (2002) and we have another game scheduled for 2011. Although we have not faced each other much on the field, we fight for state dollars and fans every day.

    On the other hand, we have many casual fans who pull for UT and MTSU.

    GenesPage.com Subscribers: Since MTSU started playing D 1A football in 1999, what would you say has been their signature win? Or are they still looking for it?
    BlueRaiderZone.com Publisher: I think signature wins change as your program grows. In 2001 we beat Vanderbilt. At the time that was our signature win.

    In 2008 we beat Maryland in Murfreesboro. In my opinion this became our new signature win.

    Earlier this year we went to Maryland and beat them. I think this has now become our signature win because we beat an ACC team on the road.

    A win over Miss. St. would set a new standard for signature wins.

    GenesPage.com Subscribers: Is Vanderbilt considered a big rivalry to MTSU especially since they've beaten Vandy a couple of times?
    BlueRaiderZone.com Publisher: If you ask Blue Raider fans they will say yes. If you ask Vandy fans I think they will say no.

    We have beaten Vandy all 3 times we have played them since 2001. We do have a 4-game series scheduled with them. I believe it starts in 2013.

    GenesPage.com Subscribers: What are some of MTSU's sports-related traditions?
    BlueRaiderZone.com Publisher: This is an area in which we struggle. Being so new to FBS we are lacking tradition. Here's a few we do have:

  • 1) Raiderwalk- The players walk through the Grove to the stadium. They touch the statue of a blue horseshoe for good luck as they walk past it.
  • 2) RV Row- Tailgating has really exploded over the past few years. We have an area we call RV Row where many people tailgate.
  • 3) The Grove- Similar to The Grove in Oxford, we have an area in the middle of campus where many people tailgate.

    Besides these few traditions, we are still lacking in this area.

    GenesPage.com Subscribers: How has Kermit Davis been doing at MTSU and what do the fans and administration think of him?
    BlueRaiderZone.com Publisher: The fan base is split on Kermit Davis. There is one group that loves Coach Davis and they respect him because our teams are always competitive. I think we have had only one losing season under Coach Davis.

    Unfortunately, Coach Davis has not led us to postseason play. Many of his distracters point to this as a sign that he can't get us "over the hump".

    Gene Swindoll is the publisher of the GenesPage.com website, the source for Mississippi State sports on Scout.com sports network. You can contact him by emailing swindoll@genespage.com.

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