In an effort to get to know Middle Tennessee State a little better I did my usual research in trying to find a quality opponent blog. The Blue Raiders don't have an SBNation site (nor does RICE or SEMO), so it took a little searching. I did find that Adam Sparks of the Murfreesboro news site The Daily News Journal publishes Blueraiders.com, a Gannet website. He was kind enough to answer some questions for me concerning Saturday's opener.
T-Mill: MTSU's offense seems pretty gutted after last year. Has anyone taken the lead int he quarterback battle between Logan Kilgore and Jeff Murphy?
Adam: Yes, Logan Kilgore is the starter. Behind closed doors, that's been the understanding for months. Publicly, it only recently became realized. But Kilgore is definitely the guy. He's a strong-armed thrower and a poised guy. He'll take some lumps because he has limited experience, but I think he'll be really good by late in the season. We'll see how he does against a Big Ten team in the opener (he was OK against Minnesota in his first game last year, filling in for the suspended starter).
As far the offense goes, it should be fairly strong. Statistically speaking, it looks like the unit will be rebuilding because the leading rusher, leading passer and one of the top receivers are all gone, but there was good depth and balance last season. Kilgore is solid and will only get better. Most of the WRs are back. Four starters are back on the offensive line, though some are nursing injuries. And running back Benny Cunningham may be the most complete player on either side of the ball.
T-Mill: Will Purdue see more of a running attack even with the loss of Phillip Tanner?
Adam: It will still be a spread offense, only more traditional than past years because the team no longer has a running QB. Kilgore will throw it downfield. But yes, the ground game should be the safety net. The offensive line should be a strength, and Cunningham is a dependable runner. Running back D.D. Kyles gives the offense a good change-of-pace runner, but he's been hampered by injuries.
T-Mill This was a last minute schedule addition, but MTSU has dipped into the Big Ten a few times of late. What is the confidence level of the program heading to West Lafayette?
Adam: I think it's pretty good. The team tends to see these games as winnable because they've done it before (and gotten close other times). MTSU beat Maryland twice, lost to Virginia by a last-second field goal and fell to Minnesota by a touchdown (after leading in the third quarter). No offense to Purdue, but it's a mid-level major conference school. It's not Alabama. It's not Ohio State. It's not LSU. It's not a national title contender. MTSU usually faces such opponents with a good bit of confidence. That being said, many of these players are very young and didn't play in those aforementioned games, so it's still a question mark.
T-Mill: Purdue may have more balance between pass and run with Rob Henry now sidelined since he was more of a running quarterback. Does that help or hurt MTSU defensively?
Adam: I think it helps MTSU that Henry, presumably a better QB than TerBush or Robinson, is out. However, if it turns Purdue more to a ground game, that could be bad for the Blue Raiders. MTSU's undersized front-seven has struggled against big, power running teams the last few seasons. It will certainly be a test for the defense if Purdue relies on Bolden, Shavers and that big offensive line.
T-Mill: What do you think needs to happen for MTSU to pull off a nice road win against a Big Ten foe?
Adam: Clog up the run early and make Purdue pass. And when Purdue puts the ball in the air, blitz TerBush (MTSU loves to bring pressure) and force a couple turnovers. Offensively, play with a really high tempo and turn the game into a track meet. I think MTSU has a better chance to win a high-scoring game.
T-Mill: What is your perception of the Purdue program coming into this game?
Adam: Unbelievable tradition of quarterbacks (Dawson, Griese, Phipps, Everitt, George, Brees, Orton, etc.). Better program than its record has shown the last two seasons. Wondering if Danny Hope will be able to get it back where it once was. He's had little good luck so far.
T-Mill: Finally, do you have a prediction for us?
Adam: Purdue 28, MTSU 20