- Andrea Adelson, ESPN Staff Writer
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You saw the preview and prediction. Now here are three keys each for Middle Tennessee and Miami (Ohio) headed into the GoDaddy.com Bowl on Thursday night in Mobile, Ala.
Middle Tennessee (6-6)
1. Get Dwight Dasher going. That has been easier said than done this season. Dasher has had an inconsistent season after being suspended the first four games for violating NCAA rules. He did play well in the finale against FIU, so the Blue Raiders are hoping he can pick up where he left off. But he did show signs of rust when he returned after his four weeks off, so it will be interesting to see whether the same rust returns with such a long layoff between games. One of the big keys will be to break contain and make plays with his legs, something that he has not done as much this season as he did in 2010.
2. Contain Miami running back Thomas Merriweather. The RedHawks have relied more on their run game with Zac Dysert out, and Merriweather has responded with three of his best games of the season. Still, with a redshirt freshman quarterback in Austin Boucher starting once again for Miami, you can bet the Blue Raiders will want to shut down Merriweather and make Boucher beat them with his arm. To be successful, not only will Miami have to put pressure on Boucher with Jamari Lattimore, they will have to account for Miami receivers Nick Harwell and Armand Robinson, one of the finest duos in the MAC. The two combined for 1,766 yards and 11 touchdowns this season.
3. Limit the mistakes. Middle Tennessee has been a turnover machine this season, ranking last in the FBS in turnover margin. The Blue Raiders have given the ball away 33 times and taken it away only 17, a large reason why they had a .500 season this year. Miami, meanwhile, is at plus-8 on the season in turnover margin, so it is even more imperative in this game for the Blue Raiders to hold onto the ball.
Miami (Ohio) (9-4)
1. Make life easy for Boucher. There is no question that Boucher has filled in well as the starter since Dysert went down with a rib injury in November. Boucher has started three games and won all three, thanks in part to an increased reliance on the run game and Merriweather -- who has posted two 100-yard games with Boucher as the starter. It will be important to get Merriweather going early, to help open up passing lanes for Boucher and keep the Middle Tennessee defense honest. Balance is a must for Miami to be successful in this game.
2. Block defensive end Jamari Lattimore. That is no easy task. Lattimore was named Sun Belt Defensive Player of the Year after leading the league with 11.5 sacks and 14 tackles for loss. He also ranks third on the team in tackles with 64. Lattimore has good speed, and should be able to take advantage of that against an offensive line that has given up 34 sacks this season, one of the worst in the country. Left tackle Matt Kennedy is on the hot seat.
3. Intangibles. There are a couple of questions for Miami headed into the game that have nothing to do with what will happen on the field. First, how will the team do with interim coach Lance Guidry on the sideline guiding the team? Mike Haywood is the coach who led this squad to the biggest turnaround in the NCAA this season, going from 1-11 to 9-4. But he resigned to coach at Pittsburgh and has since been fired following being arrested on a domestic violence charge. Northern Illinois responded with an interim coach at the helm in its win over Fresno State, so the same could happen here. Also, none of these players have been in a bowl game before, so it will be important for them to keep their poise early on this game.
1dDavid M. Hale