- Murray State was picked to finish tied for sixth in the nine-team Ohio Valley Conference. Why were the Racers picked so low? Was it a statement of how good the conference was, or that people under-estimated Murray State?
- How would you describe Murray State's style of offense? Judging by the points scored, it seems the Racers may play at a fast tempo -- is that correct? How did Missouri and Missouri State handle the offense?
Fast. And maybe that doesn't serve the Racer offense justice. In a high-scoring affair, it's nothing for head coach Chris Hatcher to watch his offense go over 100 plays, and the most impressive part is how efficient the unit is as a whole. The 'Hatch-Attack' offense leaves little time for opposing defenses to adjust mid-drive, mostly forcing teams to use the same 11 guys throughout the possession. Murray State scored a modern-day school record 83 points two weeks ago against NAIA foe Campbellsville, but they've looked good against the big boys as well. In the season opener at Missouri, the Racers had a 14-13 lead at the end of the first quarter. As for Missouri State, the only way they could handle the Murray State offense was to try to keep the unit off the field. The Bears rushed, rushed and rushed some more, trying to milk the clock to keep the ball out of Miller's hands. It worked for most of the first half, but eventually, the Racers got rolling like they so often do.
- Who are some of the key performers on offense? How would you describe Maikhail Miller as a QB -- run-first, throw-first, or a dual threat? Who are his most dangerous weapons?
It becomes hyperbole at times to call a quarterback 'dual-threat', but Maikhail Miller truly is. He is a pass-first quarterback in Hatcher's generous offense, but will have several designed runs scripted into the game plan and makes things happen with his legs when plays break down. Behind Miller is perhaps the top running back tandem in the FCS in seniors Duane Brady and Jaamal Berry, an Ohio State transfer and one-time starting tailback for the Buckeyes. Out wide the Racers are young, except for veteran All-American Walter Powell, who set school records for receptions (94) and receiving yards (1,213) a year ago. Last week against Missouri State, Powell accounted for five touchdowns, reeling in four during his 11-catch, 155-yard receiving night, as well as returning the opening kick of the second half 98 yards for pay dirt. Janawski Davis and Jeremy Harness are young names to remember out of the slot.
- While the offense has rolled up a lot of points, the defense seems to have given up a fair number, too. Is the defense struggling, or is the large point total a function of dealing with an offense that scores points quickly?
The Murray State defense is in a bit of a transition under Therrell. He has switched the Racer scheme from a 4-3 to a 3-4, and has them playing much more zone than in years past. The defense hasn't gotten many breaks for how fast paced the offense is, but was gashed up the middle by big runs last week against Missouri State that kept the Bears in the game. While the Racers have surrendered a lot of points and yards, they've been a very opportunistic, turning over their opponent on the opening drive in all three games this season. There are as many as six seniors in the secondary at any given time, and Hatcher expects the unit to continue to improve as his staff tweaks personnel from week-to-week.
- Who are some of the key players on defense? Looking at the numbers, it seems as if the Racers are struggling against both the pass and the run -- is there one they defend better? Are the coaches looking at defensive changes, or are they focused on doing things better?
Linebacker Chavez Sims has been the most effective defensive player for the Racers, having already logged five sacks on the season. The strength of the defense is is the secondary, and the leader of that unit is safety Brandon Wicks. Wicks played high school ball just two miles from Murray State's campus, and has led the team in tackles two of his first three seasons. What may look like a poor pass defense statistically is skewed by a game against FBS Missouri. At the moment, Murray State is better at stopping the pass than the run.
- How have kicker Jordan Benton and punter Steven Mix done this season? What makes Walter Powell such a dangerous punt- and kick-returner? Are the Racers good at blocking punts and/or kicks?
It seems like Jordan Benton's pitching wedge has been broken this season. He's missed two extra points already, but had a streak of 53-straight made last season and is one of the top place kickers in the Ohio Valley Conference. Steven Mix doesn't have a tremendous amount of boom in his punts, but he's fairly accurate -- which is a must for Hatcher, who coaches the special teams unit himself. Walter Powell's most dangerous talent is his ability to make the first man miss. He's incredibly elusive in tight spaces, and once he's in the open field he's usually too strong for just one man to bring down. As an FCS team, the Racers welcome FBS transfers into the program every year. Most make an impact during their time, but almost all are incredibly useful on special teams immediately. Being able to put Division I athletes on the edges, the Racers are usually good for a few blocked kicks or punts each season. The Racers blocked Missouri's second extra point attempt of the game in the season opener.