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Dasher’s Back, Just In Time

Dwight Dasher's back under center, and just in time.

We knew in August — we knew in May, even — that the Sun Belt season would come down to this: Troy and Middle Tennessee State, in Murfreesboro, with the key head-to-head tiebreaker on the line. It’s early, but there’s little reason to think we’ll see a Sun Belt team other than the Trojans or Blue Raiders take the conference crown; Louisiana-Lafayette is 2-1 in Sun Belt play, but the Ragin’ Cajuns have barely squeaked past two of the conference’s worst: Arkansas State by seven, North Texas by a single point. Even with both Troy and the Blue Raiders undergoing a slight period of transition, it’s clear that little has changed — all has gone according to plan.

It’s somewhat disappointing, actually. Why can’t the Sun Belt save this game for November; the game would mean the same, but the stakes would seem higher. Hey, Sun Belt: next time, just put the highly-anticipated North Texas-Western Kentucky in this space — save M.T.S.U.-Troy for a later date.

Obviously, ESPN has a say in how the Sun Belt schedule looks — the network offered a much-coveted Tuesday night stop, and the Sun Belt opted to puts its best game forward.

This has nothing to do with tonight’s game, which is highlighted by the return of Middle Tennessee quarterback Dwight Dasher: the senior missed the first four games of 2010, a period that saw the Blue Raiders finish 2-2. Quarterback play has scuffled in his stead, to put it mildly.

The job fell to Logan Kilgore and Jeff Murphy to fill the void left by Dasher’s suspension; the pair combined for three touchdowns against six interceptions over Middle Tennessee’s first four games, while not nearing Dasher’s production on the ground — obviously.

The Middle Tennessee rushing game helped pick up the slack, at least somewhat: 27th in rushing a season ago, M.T.S.U. ranks 32nd nationally in that category heading into tonight. It really hasn’t been enough — without Dasher, the Blue Raiders are merely average. That might be too kind, in fact; without Dasher, the Blue Raiders must just be another Sun Belt pushover.

So it’s a good thing he’s back, just in time for the program’s biggest game of the season. How long will it take the senior to find his groove? Is expecting a 2009-like performance misguided — considering that not only has Dasher not played all season, he’s sat behind Kilgore and Murphy during practice?

Troy has no such issues. Despite losing all-conference quarterback Levi Brown, the Trojans haven’t missed a beat: 10th nationally in total offense through four games, though a disappointing 35th in scoring. The lone surprise — as that Troy is moving the ball offensively is no surprise — is who’s taking snaps under center; not Jamie Hampton, as expected, but freshman Corey Robinson.

The once-prolific high school quarterback — he threw for 91 touchdowns as a senior — leads the Sun Belt with 311.0 passing yards per game, along with eight touchdowns against three interceptions. As was the case with Brown, Robinson has developed a rapport with receiver Jerrel Jernigan: now a senior, believe it or not, Jernigan made 31 receptions in September.

Without Dasher in play, this game would be easy to project: Troy. Perhaps not by 24 points, as was the case last season, but by a substantial margin — I’d say by at least a touchdown, perhaps as much as 14 points. Dasher is good enough, scary enough to the Troy defense, to pull M.T.S.U. back into contention. Troy does have one of the nation’s worst defenses, after all, and has proved equally inept at stopping both the run and the pass.

The game hinges on Dasher’s performance: if he can immediately recapture his earlier form, Middle Tennessee is in very good shape — at home, with a talented dual-threat quarterback going against one of the nation’s worst defenses. If this isn’t the case, M.T.S.U. might be in trouble. We know Troy can score; can the Blue Raiders keep pace?

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  1. trojanbrutha says:

    Paul, you knew in your heart-of-hearts not to go against those TROY Trojans…Thanks for bringing attention to the nonAQ teams.

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