The Murray State defense looked like it was spinning in circles last year. This year, a whole new coaching staff and defensive scheme has taken hold and put the Racers on the fast track to success.
Defensive Coordinator Dennis Therrell is not a new face at the helm of the Racer defense. His task this year is the same as it was nearly a decade ago in 2004: revitalize a defense that ranks near the bottom.
Therrell said it was an easy decision to take the job. He lives in Murray and has a son on the team.
He said he knew he had some work to do, though.
“We got a new staff so we had a lot of work to do as far as putting in a new scheme and trying to figure our what our players could do physically,” Therrell said. “We try to put them in the best situation so they can be successful.”
Therrell said he has seen great improvement since he joined the staff, but he still sees room to get better.
“We’re not all the way there yet,” Therrell said. “We never will be, but we’re way further along than we were at the beginning of spring.”
Along with new coaches, the defense has been subjected to a whole new scheme since last season. Therrell said there are two main changes he wants to institute.
The first is not leaving players on islands by themselves when they are in one-on-one situations. The second is keeping as many eyes on the football as possible.
The Racers will play zone coverage most of the time, and Therrell wants them to see the ball thrown and see the running backs at all times.
Head Coach Chris Hatcher said the change is definitely a good one.
“He’s taken the guys we have on the team and he’s tried to put them in positions to be successful,” Hatcher said. “I think just with his overall knowledge of the game he’s brought a different mentality to the defense that we haven’t had in a while.”
Both coaches said they think the players have made the transition well and seem enthusiastic, which will help them win games.
“They’ve played with a lot of excitement,” Therrell said. “They fly around. As long as they’re doing that, we’ve got a chance.”
He said he hopes that speed and excitement will be present in the game against Missouri Saturday. Therrell said the Mizzou receivers are big and fast, and that will be one of the biggest challenges. Since the Tigers are such a big school, they have a depth chart with which the Racers can not compete.
“If we can go out there and get a couple of three-and-outs and get off the field and on the sideline,” Therrell said, “we don’t have to worry about some of those issues of getting tired and having to play tired.”
Another challenge will be containing the Missouri quarterback. Therrell said he is a very good athlete and runs well, so the Racer defense will have to contain him in the pocket. Once he gets out of the pocket, Therrell said, he can get dangerous.
Hatcher and Therrell both said they know this will be the toughest game of the season. While they are still trying to get a victory, most of their goals are set for the rest of the season rather than this weekend.
“[Our goal is to] keep the opponent to one point less than what our offense scores,” Therrell said. “We want our players to go out there and play the best they can play, and not make any mistakes and give up the game.”
Story by Ryan Richardson, Sports Editor