Story by Mallory Tucker, Staff writer
Slipping to 2-6 on the season after last weekend’s 34-20 loss to Eastern Illinois, the Racers are holding onto one thing this week: belief.
“When you get into a ballgame, some things don’t go your way,” said Head Coach Mitch Stewart. “You’ve got to find a way to believe that you can pull it out, and I think we do.”
Whether they believe it or not, injuries will inhibit the Racers this weekend, as 14 players were out because of various injuries after Saturday’s matchup against the Panthers.
“Right now there’s so many I couldn’t even tell them by name to you,” Stewart said. “There’s a few at every position, it seems like. The specialists are OK, so that’s good, and the quarterback, knock on wood. We’re doing some cross training and teaching this guy a little bit here, and then teach him a little bit here.”
The 14 included senior wide receivers Jeremy Harness and Janawski Davis, who Stewart deemed as questionable.
The duo’s status not only leaves room, but makes it necessary – for players like senior Paul Rice, juniors Mitch Stults and Jesse Blackburn and sophomore Jordan Gandy to step up and make plays.
“Mitch Stults is probably going to be a swing guy for us,” Stewart said. “He’s going to have to know a little bit of everything. There’s a good chance that Pokey Harris is going to have to play a little bit bigger role. There’s a couple of guys that are going to have to either continue what they’re doing or we’re going to lean on them a little bit more. We’ll see how they do.”
The Racers will kick off against the Tennessee State Tigers at 2:30 p.m. in Nashville, Tennessee on Saturday. A big, long and lean all-around defense is the Racers’ biggest concern as they hit the turf. Tennessee State is coming off a 20-6 victory against Austin Peay State last weekend, but they put up only 241 yards of total offense as opposed to Murray State’s 427 against Eastern Illinois.
On the other side of the ball, Stewart expects the Tigers to attempt to control both the game clock and the line of scrimmage.
“It’s no secret – they’ll watch the tape – they’ll see that some of our guys are out on the defensive front,” Stewart said. “They’ll probably lean on us a little bit. Milk the clock and try to keep our offense off the field as much as possible. I think it’s going to be kind of a run, run, run, play action, take it over the top type game.”
The Racers’ offensive focus this week will be on stretching the field and converting third downs. At just four for 18 last week and 50 for 120 on the season, Stewart says the team’s third downs are horrendous right now because they lack the healthy players needed to run their plays.
“Part of that was my fault Saturday,” Stewart said. “We have one particular package that we were going to do on third and short, third and medium situations. Because of the injuries that we had, that package was out. We were kind of scrambling a little bit on third and shorts, third and mediums, trying to make something work. We were holding on for dear life there, especially after the first half. If I called the plays they wouldn’t even know who the Z was and who the X was.”
The coaching staff has been working to adjust players as needed to fill voids left by injuries, but Stewart doesn’t consider his offense limited at this point.
“What we’ve been doing: trying to figure out exactly where we are and package the guys that we have,” Stewart said. “And then just keep our fingers crossed. Do I have my druthers right now? Am I two-deep everywhere? No. At some spots I’m one deep and then I’ve got a swing guy that’s going to have to know four positions. But we’ll make it work some kind of way.”