With playoff hopes on the minds of many, a healthy locker room is just what the Racers need to make a late season push.
The Racers (4-3, 2-2 OVC) will face the upstart Eastern Kentucky Colonels (4-3, 3-1 OVC) 1 p.m. Saturday at Roy Stewart Stadium and hope to gain ground in the race for the OVC season title.
Coach Chris Hatcher said the bye week couldn’t have come at a better time in the season.
“It gave us a chance to get a lot of guys healthy and also gave a chance for our guys to take a mental break,” Hatcher said. “We’ve played seven straight games, had camp and we were kind of due for a break.”
Several players will return from the disabled list including shutdown corner Darrian Skinner, defensive end Richard Biers, wide receiver Ricky Mitchell, linebacker Qua Huzzie and running back Duane Brady.
Hatcher said most of the bye week was spent physically relaxing in practice, but focusing more mentally on the run-oriented Colonel offense.
“This past summer they made a commitment to running the football this season,” Hatcher said. “Watching them on film, they’re going to line it right up and run it at us.”
EKU totes a running game averaging 207 yards per game and 4.7 yards per carry.
Junior running back Matt Denham leads the team with 678 yards rushing on the season, averaging 6.7 yards per carry and nearly 100 yards per contest. Denham, however, only leads the committee of rushers EKU possesses. Junior Jeremiah Williams averages 53 yards per game and junior quarterback T.J. Pryor stays quick on his feet, averaging 38 yards out of the pocket.
Hatcher admitted a big challenge was ahead for the defense as opposing teams have been able to run the football with great success this season.
“We’re going to have to get in there and bow our necks on the interior line,” Hatcher said. “We’ve got to force some third-and-long situations.”
Depth is not the only positive as players return from the disabled list. Hatcher said guys shifting around this season will finally be able to play their skilled position this weekend.
“With these guys coming back, guys can finally focus on one position and not get moved around all the time and do what they were brought here to do,” he said.
Signal-caller Casey Brockman will have to be at his very best Saturday in order to decipher a Colonel defense yielding just 225 yards passing per game. Hatcher attributed a stout passing defense to their keen ability to disguise blitzes and negate pre-snap reads.
“He’s got to have a good game for us,” he said. “Last year against EKU was not one of his best performances.”
Receivers Dexter Barnett and Hannibal Beauford said the bye week was spent maintaining team chemistry and resting dead legs.
“Everybody seems excited about this upcoming game,” Barnett said. “Practice was more up-tempo and a lot of fun this past week.”
Beauford said since the Georgia State game, the team has treated every game like a playoff game and the focus remains solely on Saturday.
“This weekend we really needed the rest,” Beauford said. “But we’re really focused on EKU this weekend.”