Story by Blake Sandlin, Assistant Sports Editor
Murray State football will face arguably the tallest task in the OVC when it takes on third-ranked Jacksonville State this weekend.
They’ll be doing so without any momentum, as the Racers have lost two-straight games and currently sit at 2-6. Jacksonville State, on the other hand, has nothing but that, riding a 7-1 start to go along with an unblemished 5-0 conference record.
The Racers are coming off a 26-13 loss to Eastern Kentucky. In the homecoming loss, Murray State junior quarterback Shuler Bentley was able to compile 210 passing yards and a touchdown but it was the Colonels’ 480 all-purpose yardage – with 279 coming on the ground – that solidified Eastern Kentucky’s victory.
Head Coach Mitch Stewart wasn’t pleased with his team’s performance last week and said the Racers will have to make adjustments moving forward to adapt to the Gamecocks.
“We did not play very well Saturday,” Stewart said. “We’re making a lot of changes moving forward to play better in all three phases, and obviously doing some self-evaluations to make sure we’ve got people in good situations and the right people in those situations.”
The team will have the week to make adjustments before traveling to Jacksonville, Alabama for its penultimate road game of the season. The Gamecocks are leading the OVC in practically every major statistical category, ranked first in total offense, total defense, scoring offense, scoring defense and rushing defense.
One of the largest catalysts in regards to their stellar offensive attack can be attributed to their running back, senior Roc Thomas, who in eight games thus far has amassed seven touchdowns and 696 rushing yards. In comparison, the entire Murray State offense has rushed for a combined 565 yards this season.
As for the key to stopping Thomas, Stewart said the focus should be on trying to contain him.
“You’re not going to stop Roc Thomas,” Stewart said. “You’re not going to stop that offensive line. The only way that you can attempt to contain them is putting as many hats around the ball as you can and just trying to bottle him up as best you can.”
Jacksonville State has shown it can stop the run on the other side of the ball as well. It is ranked seventh nationally in rushing defense, allowing 634 rushing yards on the season and just 79.3 per game. The Gamecocks’ defense will likely play a key role in bottling up Murray State’s rushing attack that is ranked last in the OVC. Stewart said his team has only been able to threaten opponents through one facet: passing.
“We’ve put our offensive line and our quarterback in a tremendous problem being only able to do one thing, and that’s throw the ball,” Stewart said. “We had a heart-to-heart with the offense over just some things that we needed to get squared away.”
Stewart went on to say that repairing the Racers’ running troubles is a process that can’t be fixed immediately.
“For some reason, sports is the one thing in society as a whole that everyone wants quick fixes. Everybody wants things done right away,” Stewart said. “Everybody wants immediate results and immediate gratification – it ain’t gonna happen. There’s a foundation that has to be put there; there are steps that have to be taken. There are things that have to be done, and sometimes it takes some time.”
Stewart and the Racers will be attempting to take the first steps en route to building that house when they take on Jacksonville State at 1 p.m. on Saturday, Nov. 4 in Jacksonville, Alabama.