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September 14, 2009After the first scrimmage of preseason practice, Middle Tennessee head coach Rick Stockstill said redshirt sophomore walkon Shane Blissard potentially could earn a spot on the travel roster if he kept performing well.
Blissard, a 6-foot-5, 210 pounder from Oakland High School, caught a touchdown pass in that scrimmage and ultimately did earn a spot on the bus to Clemson for week one.
Two games into the season, he's the leading Blue Raider receiver and appears to have earned continued playing time in offensive coordinator Tony Franklin's pass happy offense.
"I hope I can keep it consistent," Blissard said after catching two passes for 46 yards and a touchdown in MT's 31-14 win over Memphis. "One game I'll do good and the next game I may not have any catches. I have to be unselfish, let the other guys do their jobs too and just take it as it comes. (Being able to contribute) was my goal. Me being a walkon, you just have to work extra hard and hard work pays off."
Through two games, Blissard has six catches for 114 yards. The yardage leads the team and the receptions rank second only to Patrick Honeycutt's nine catches.
Blissard's 40 yard touchdown catch against Memphis caught him off guard because of how open he ended up being behind the Tiger secondary.
"It was just a post route and (the defender) tried to hit me and he just missed and that caused me to be wide open. I almost dropped it but thank God I held onto it. I was surprised that I was that open ... I thought I was going to drop it but it was still hanging in the air and I just snatched it out of the air. I saw the blue in the endzone and that nobody was around so I just turned the jets on."
Young guys contributing
Through two games, the Blue Raiders have utilized seven true freshmen, three of which played against both Clemson and Memphis.
Safeties Sammy Seamster and Juno Prudhomm, running back Benjamin Cunningham, wide receiver Tavarres Jefferson, cornerback Kenneth Gilstrap, linebacker Justin Jones, and defensive end Omar McLendon have played to this point.
Gilstrap made arguably the play of the game against Memphis when he forced and recovered a fumble while in punt coverage.
Cunningham entered the game in the third quarter when senior running back Phillip Tanner went down with a knee injury. Cunningham carried four times for eight yards and will likely get more opportunities with Tanner sidelined for at least this week's game against Maryland.
Prudhomm had a tackle for loss against Memphis.
While Stockstill has been impressed with the performance of many members of his 2009 signing class, he hopes that he can have the luxury of redshirting the remainder of the class.
"I hope it's no more than (those seven)," he said when asked if he expected the number of true freshmen to play this year would increase any more. "You never know. Injuries will have some to do with it. Others we will continue to see how they progress these next two weeks. We've had to rely too much on (true freshmen) the last couple of years because of injuries. We've had to play a lot of them because we couldn't redshirt them."
Upon further review...
After Saturday's win over Memphis, Stockstill was quick to praise the offensive line in his postgame comments, but after watching film of the game he still feels like there is a lot of room for improvement leading up to the Maryland game.
"The old saying is that it is never as good as it looks or it seems and it is never as bad as it looks or seems," he said Monday. "After watching the film, I don't think (the line) played as well as I thought we did. At times, Memphis only rushed two people. We've got to play better. We've just got to be more consistent. We did play better than we did against Clemson. I think they played harder and better but there is more there that they can do."
The Blue Raiders averaged 3.8 yards per rush and surrendered two sacks against Memphis.