Caging the Tigers: Racers face tough season opener

 

Bigger. Stronger. Faster.

That’s what Murray State Head Coach Chris Hatcher called them. But Murray State does not plan on laying down in their trip to Missouri this Saturday. Sure, the Missouri Tigers are considered the weaklings in the Southeastern Conference, but they are an SEC team nonetheless.

Murray State, on the other hand, was picked by coaches and sports information directors to finish in the middle of the pack in the Ohio Valley Conference. The Racers are looking to bounce back from a 2012 season, which featured some tough heartbreaks and the loss of several key players.

Costly turnovers and broken defensive coverages were the difference in at least two games last season, and they certainly did nothing to keep other scores close.

This year, Murray State is a whole new team. A new head play caller on defense brings in an entirely new scheme that has the potential to put the team on the road to fast success. Defensive Coordinator Dennis Therrell said now that the new structure is in place, he expects huge improvement and consistency.

“We’re not a group that’s going to change every week,” he said. “During the week we say ‘this is what they do, this is how we adjust to it,’ and we play football.”

According to the 2012 statistics, Missouri and Murray State should match up as opposites. The Racers amassed nearly 150 more yards per game than the Tigers. Change directions, though, and Murray State allowed nearly 150 more yard per game.

That means there will be a battle in the trenches. The linemen on both sides of the ball will play a huge factor in keeping the game close or breaking it wide open. Hatcher said he recognizes that threat.

“Any time you play a game like this, that’s the question you’ve got,” he said. “Can you hold your own in the trenches and can you hold your own in the special teams?”

The loss of experienced offensive linemen does nothing to help the situation. A slight sigh of relief comes with the new quarterback for the Racers, though. After the loss of All-American Casey Brockman, Hatcher and company were left scratching their heads about who would fill those shoes.

Sophomore Ole Miss transfer Maikhail Miller was the player who stepped up. Hatcher said Miller provides more of a threat outside the pocket because of his athleticism and ability to scramble. Miller will have help this weekend from veterans Duane Brady and Jaamal Berry, two running backs who ran over defenses last year.

“They’re dynamic, and we’re going to lean heavily on them this season, especially early on until we break the quarterback in,” Hatcher said.

He said he thinks the game will be good experience for the players, but does not feel pressure. He said the game will help them find out more about the team that they can carry into the rest of the season.

Hatcher said he recognizes the mismatch, but he said he feels confident in his team.

“This is kind of like Murray State’s basketball team going and playing the worst NBA team,” he said. “But I do feel good about us. We’re a bigger team than we’ve been in the past. We’ve got some skill guys that can compete at a high level. We’re excited about the opportunity.”

Therrell said his opinions are similar to Hatcher’s on the game. He thinks the starters can match up well, but the depth chart will be a problem the Racers face too soon for some positions.

“In some cases like safety and corner, we have a lot of depth,” Therrell said. “We just have to hold up and get ourselves off the field.”

Murray State should be used to these tough season openers, though. This is the fourth consecutive year they have opened the season on the road against a Football Bowl Subdivision opponent – the Racers are a member of the Football Championship Subdivision.

Saturday’s matchup is actually the second meeting between the schools. In the 2006 contest, Missouri routed the Racers 47-7.

Story by Ryan Richardson, Sports Editor