I don’t think I’ve ever enjoyed covering a Murray State football game more than I did last Saturday night at Jacksonville State.
I have to admit, I wasn’t all that excited when my editor asked me to give up a precious day of Fall Break to make the long drive to the backwoods of Alabama to watch the Racers play a team they hadn’t beaten since 2003.
After suffering a 48-7 beatdown the week before, I wasn’t exactly confident in the Racers’ chances against the Gamecocks.
Boy, was I wrong.
After a less-than-desirable nonconference schedule which featured the Racers suffering two big losses against far superior FBS teams, the true makeup of this team remained a bit of a mystery.
Sure, they managed to pull victory from the jaws of defeat two weeks ago against a decent Missouri State team, but the defense and run game both still left a lot to be desired.
Saturday night, Head Coach Chris Hatcher’s team showed up to play and I saw improvement in nearly every facet of the game.
The backfield duo of Jaamal Berry and Duane Brady, which was proclaimed as being the best tandem in the OVC prior to the season, finally put it all together Saturday night. Berry, who had struggled with a limited number of carries through the first four games, exploded in the first half, finishing with 96 yards on 10 carries.
Additionally, the defense, which has been a weak point over the last several seasons, seems to finally be improving. Yes, they still allowed the Gamecocks to rack up 652 yards of total offense, but the difference this season is the turnovers.
Through the first four games, the Racers have forced 12 turnovers, including two huge interceptions down the home stretch on Saturday night.
It’s not a defense that’s going to shut out many opponents, but Dennis Therrell’s new squad seems to be very opportunistic and has come up big in several key situations.
If the Racers can continue to improve out of the backfield and on the defensive side of the ball, they’re going to be a very tough team to beat.
Perhaps the most notable thing I’ve noticed about this team, however, is its demeanor.
When asked why he thought this team has overcome its late-game struggles and put together two game-winning plays early in the season, sophomore Jeremy Harness summed it up perfectly.
“Everybody works together,” Harness said. “There’s no selfishness on our team. Nobody cares who gets the credit, everybody is out here for one goal, and that’s just to win. This team is a family. Everybody in there is my brother and we all come together every game and just play hard.”
With a 1-0 start in the conference, and the next three games coming against Tennessee Tech, Southeast Missouri and Austin Peay – the three teams picked to finish at the bottom of the OVC standings – it could be a fun next few weeks for Murray football.
Column by Jonathan Ferris, Staff Writer