With the nonconference portion of the season finally in the rear view mirror, the football team is now set to begin its quest for an Ohio Valley Conference championship.
A 48-7 loss to Bowling Green last Saturday concluded what Head Coach Chris Hatcher called the preseason schedule.
Through those first four games, the Racers went 2-2, struggling against two higher-level FBS teams, while playing just one FCS opponent.
“This first four-week stretch has been awfully difficult to prepare for,” Hatcher said. “You go into every game believing and preparing to win, but realistically you know it’s going to be a very uphill battle when you play in some of those Division I battles we had to play.”
The Racers displayed flashes of success through the first four games, including outscoring Missouri 14-13 in the first quarter of the season.
The next week they broke a Murray State modern-scoring record in a big win over Campbellsville and defeated Missouri State with a last-minute touchdown.
Senior offensive lineman Harris Bivin attributed some of the bright spots to the offense’s fast-paced style of play.
“We’ve tried to press the tempo and keep it simple,” Bivin said. “As long as we press that tempo, that’s the biggest part of our offense and it wears down the defense big time.”
The Racers won’t have any time to get adjusted to OVC play, however, as they face one of the toughest tests of the year Saturday on the road against Jacksonville State.
Murray State has only defeated the Gamecocks once in 10 meetings, and has lost the last three meetings by eight points or less.
Jacksonville State is off to a hot start in 2013, opening the season 4-0, including winning back-to-back overtime games headed into this weekend.
The Gamecocks rely heavily on a smash-mouth rushing attack led by a committee of talented running backs.
Jacksonville State leads the conference in rushing and sophomore Troymaine Pope is the second-leading rusher in the conference with 285 yards on the ground.
Sophomore Miles Jones and junior DaMarcus James also contribute heavily to the rushing attack.
The Racer defense may have to overcome two injuries to critical players this week as it attempts to contain the Gamecocks’ gifted backfield.
The team’s second-leading tackler Chavez Sims suffered an ankle injury against Bowling Green and is questionable for the game.
Additionally, senior defensive end Ayo Ojolola suffered an injury to his leg and will likely be out of the game against Jacksonville State.
There is some good news on the injury front, however, as junior offensive lineman Zach Littlefield saw his first action of the season Saturday at Bowling Green after suffering a leg injury in a preseason scrimmage.
Littlefield will continue to work his way back into the starting rotation Saturday and will give the Racer line some much needed depth.
With a tough matchup to kick off the conference schedule, the Racers will be looking to overcome their recent struggles against the Gamecocks and move to 3-2 on the season.
“I really like our team,” Bivin said. “We’re really talented and we’ve got a lot of seniors who have stepped up and been leaders. We’re about to find out how good we really are.”
The Racers and Gamecocks face off Saturday at 3 p.m. in Jacksonville, Ala., at Burgess-Snow Field.
Story by Jonathan Ferris, Staff Writer