Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Getting to Know MTSU

Alright Sooner fans it’s time to move on. The Oregon game is behind us and we have to turn our attention now to Middle Tennessee State of the Sun Belt Conference.

Helping us get to know the Blue Raiders a little better is Adam Sparks of the Daily News Journal in Murfreesboro, Tenn.

Adam, thanks for taking the time to share your thoughts with us.

My Opinion on Sports: First off, what did you think about the controversy at the end of the Oklahoma/Oregon game. It’s been over-stated what people here in Oklahoma think but I’m curious to know what the national perspective is.

Adam Sparks: I can't say that I saw enough of the pass interference call to make a judgment. However, the onside kick call was obviously incorrect. Oregon touched the football first and easily before it traveled 10 yards. Watching on TV, I thought the game was over right then and there. Upholding that call after reviewing makes me doubt the effectiveness of instant replay. Rather than continuing to dispute a call that everyone not wearing stripes agrees on, I'm more interested in knowing how a replay official's judgment could be skewed in that way because obviously he believed his call was correct at the time.

My Opinion on Sports: Middle Tennessee State comes into this game with the same record as Oklahoma (2-1). Tell us a little about this team and who some of the playmakers are.

Adam Sparks: The defense lost seven starters and arguably the best defensive line in school history, so it's a tremendous surprise that the unit has become a strength, regardless of the opponents. The defense has sacrificed size to improve its speed, so stopping the run is a challenge. Linebacker J.K. Sabb's runs to the ball well and racks up tackles for loss.

On offense, the team is limited by a lack of experience and speed in the receiving corps and depth on the offensive line. Running backs Eugene Gross, DeMarco McNair, Alex Suber, Phillip Tanner and Desmond
Gee make up a strong and deep backfield.

Kicker/punter Colby Smith has been All-Sun Belt and a national award semifinalist at both positions.

My Opinion on Sports: Give us your thoughts on Adrian Peterson and what you think the defensive game plan will be for the Blue Raiders.

Adam Sparks: MTSU would love to contain him (about 150 yards, if possible), but that's easier said than done. He will undoubtedly get his yards, but the key is to stop drives short and force field goals to stay in the game. Undersized on the defensive line, MTSU will probably have to overload the tackle box. So it may be up to Oklahoma's passing game to beat skeleton coverages.

My Opinion on Sports: What are you most confident about for MTSU coming into this game? What concerns you the most?

Adam Sparks: CONFIDENT ... The running game doesn't have a lot of big-play potential, but it has used some well-timed calls and misdirection to move the ball. Senior quarterback Clint Marks ranks second nationally in career completion percentage among active passers, behind only Louisville's Brian Brohm. Marks is very accurate, but he has shown a tendency to force passes into coverage. So far, that side hasn't shown much this season yet.

CONCERN ... If/when MTSU goes to the air, it has little speed at receiver. That makes it tough to exploit one-on-one coverages. One solution is throwing to the tight ends, where MTSU is strong.

The other concern, again, is stopping the run. The defense has bent, but not broken, up front. MTSU's defense can contain the run, but not without bringing eight men on the line and leaving the secondary all alone.

My Opinion on Sports: Eugene Gross is MTSU’s leading rusher with 173 yards. Do you think the Blue Raiders will have better success running or passing the ball against OU?

Adam Sparks: MTSU is better running the ball right now, but Oklahoma knows that, too.

With the new clock rules in college football, underdogs have a slightly better chance at an upset because the games are shorter. MTSU would love to run the football effectively because it would get them to the fourth quarter quicker and keep the ball away from Oklahoma. Gross is MTSU's best offensive player, but I doubt that will show in the statistics of this game.

My Opinion on Sports: Give us a final score prediction.

Adam Sparks: Oklahoma 35, MTSU 10

You can read Adam’s complete coverage of Middle Tennessee State online in the sports section at the Daily News Journal.