The Racers (3-3, 1-2 OVC) hope to ride momentum from last week’s win into this weekend’s much-anticipated OVC matchup against the Eastern Illinois Panthers (1-5, 0-4 OVC).
While the Racers look to reach .500 in the conference standings, the Panthers will be hungry to get their first conference win, especially at the expense of the Homecoming crowd.
Coach Chris Hatcher said that while he is proud of the efforts of the team thus far, he’s still looking for the team to play a full 60 minutes this year – needing contributions from defense, offense and special teams to help the team win.
“We’ve got to teach our guys how to win,” Hatcher said. “We’ve all got to get that winning state of mind.”
Against Georgia State, sophomore running back Duane Brady and senior running back Tyler Lavea split touches in place of Mike Harris. Lavea finished with 85 yards on 12 carries while Brady finished with 156 yards from scrimmage on 15 touches.
“Lavea was excellent while not having many reps this season,” Hatcher said. “And Brady, he’s just a winner. He caught the ball well and ran the ball well, and he’s just the ultimate team player.”
Hatcher said Harris had a rough practice last week and hopes he will play Saturday afternoon.
“During the course of the week, you have to earn the right to play on Saturday by practicing hard,” Hatcher said. “If you don’t practice well during the week, you don’t get the opportunity to play on Saturday.”
Injuries and the lack of depth on defense still plague the Racers, but junior quarterback Casey Brockman is outgunning the opposing offense, averaging 328 passing yards per game combined with a 15-7 touchdown-interception ratio.
Hatcher said stopping Eastern Illinois’ balanced attack is integral to a victory this weekend. The Panthers are averaging 314 yards of total offense, with 246 yards passing and 68 yards rushing per contest.
“They’ve played everybody pretty close,” he said. “Offensively, they present a lot of challenges because they can run the ball fairly well and they’re very good at the play action game. We’re going to have to do a good job stopping the run and we have to tackle better.”
Protecting Brockman is the main goal of the offense, Hatcher said, and doing so is no small task.
“We’re going to have our hands full blocking them,” Hatcher said. “They’re active, quick and rush very well off the edges.”
Hatcher said the team may be without receivers Arthur Brackett and Ricky Mitchell this weekend and will remain without specialist/wide receiver Patrick Robertson, defensive end Richard Biers and cornerback Darian Skinner. Cornerback Lamar Hall is out for the season.
While preparation stays the same week to week, this week’s game atmosphere should be different than normal with Tent City and an anticipated large turnout. Hatcher said he wondered why Murray State Athletics doesn’t have that set up at every single home game.
“That’s a great atmosphere over there, and it’s very conducive for our stadium,” he said. “Having a one-sided stadium; we ought to use that to our advantage. It’s exciting and our boys get excited having that many people close during our warm-ups.”
Senior kicker Kienan Cullen and senior cornerback/specialist Dontrell Johnson said they can’t wait to play in front of a raucous home crowd.
“I love playing in front of our fans because they always have our backs,” Johnson said. “At a different stadium you see them leaving, but with us, our fans never know when we can fire back and make a comeback.”
Cullen recalled back to the first home game of the season against Tennessee State and said he hoped to see that many people again this weekend.
“If you all were at the Tennessee State game, you saw the excitement and the energy in the stadium, and I think that’s well worth coming for,” Cullen said.
This weekend Cullen has a strong chance to break the school record for successful field goals in a career as he tied the Murray State career record of 49 against UT-Martin on Sept. 22.
“Coming here as a freshman, I never thought I would compete to break any school records,” Cullen said. “But as time went on I tried to stay consistent and a lot of good things happened.”
Kickoff is at 3 p.m. Saturday at Roy Stewart Stadium.