Dwight Dasher figures he will be nervous before Middle Tennessee plays Troy Tuesday night in a big Sun Belt conference showdown.
Who can blame him? It has been 10 months since he played in a football game, the first four contests of his senior season gone while he served an NCAA suspension for improperly accepting a $1,500 loan.
Dasher came into the season with high hopes and some outside Heisman buzz as one of the top dual threat quarterbacks in the country, and it pained him to be in the meeting rooms and on the sideline knowing he could do nothing but watch.
But the season is far from over.
Middle Tennessee managed to go 2-2 without him, and is 1-0 in conference play going into the Troy game. This matchup could ultimately decide who ends up winning the league. Troy (2-2, 1-0) has won four straight conference championships, including four straight over the Blue Raiders. Middle Tennessee was the preseason pick to win it all.
“I mean we want to beat them bad,” Dasher said in a phone interview. “We’re trying to go out there and win, and be the conference champs this year.”
Dasher has plenty of motivation on all fronts. He is eager to get his season started, and has spent extra time at practice working with his receivers to try to shed some of the rust. The time off between the win over Louisiana on Sept. 25 has certainly helped because it has given Dasher extra time to get reps with the first team.
He does not anticipate being rusty, but coach Rick Stockstill knows it is expecting a lot to believe Dasher will be on top of his game.
“You can only simulate game time situations in practice so much and there’s nothing like getting out there and playing,” Stockstill said. “He hasn't played a live game since December. I'm sure there will be some rust but he's had great week of practice.”
There is also motivation to change the way he has played against Troy. Dasher has never had a good game against the Trojans. In a 31-7 loss last year, he was 24-of-44 for 245 yards with a touchdown, but was shut down in the run game, with 18 carries for 53 yards. He played sparingly his freshman year and came off the bench his sophomore year but did poorly in relief.
“They have keyed in on me a lot, not wanting me to run the ball,” said Dasher, who became the fourth player in NCAA history last season to pass for more than 2,500 yards and rush for more than 1,000 yards.
“So they’ll bring a little pressure. Our offensive line has to step it up and pick it up. If they do that, I’m going to have a good game.”
The Middle Tennessee offensive line has been banged up, so that is going to be a huge key in the game. Troy coach Larry Blakeney knows his team has to prepare differently with Dasher back on the field simply because he runs the ball more than his replacements did.
“We will have to prepare well for the draw, the power and the trap where he has the ball in his hands,” he said. “Sometimes they will just line him up and run it right or left. He is also not bad throwing the ball. We had a good game against him last year, but he is a viable guy who makes a difference.”
As for Troy, the Trojans have one of the top all-purpose players in the country in Jerrel Jernigan. He needs seven receptions to break the school record of 215 held by behind Danny Grant (1966-69) and 218 yards to break the career yards mark of 2,907 that Grant also holds.
But much of the spotlight will be on Dasher and how he does in his return.
“I’m ready to get back out there and play, give everything I got especially the game I’m coming back for,” Dasher said.