MURRAY — In the game of football, momentum is key and the Racers have built a little momentum heading into today’s game against Eastern Kentucky for Homecoming.
They are coming off of back-to-back conference wins over Eastern Illinois and Tennessee State in two different ways. Two weeks ago the Racers turned the ball over four times and escaped with a win on their home field, while last week they forced five turnovers and walked away with a win.
Turnovers are just one part of the puzzle but winning that battle puts the Racers in a position to win every week, and it’s a point of emphasis every week.
“When we take care of the football, we usually win the game,” Offensive Coordinator Nick Coleman said. “If we can keep emphasizing to our guys to take care of the ball and limit the turnovers and give the defense the best chance to be successful, then we’ll end up winning football games.”
Head coach Mitch Stewart said the team has a checklist that they strive to achieve every week that directly affects wins and losses.
“Going into each week, the things that we have to do to win are always the same five things,” Stewart said. “Turnovers, third downs, red zone, special teams play, and big plays, and those will never change.”
Looking at last week, the Racers won the turnover battle 5-1, lost the battle of third-down conversion rate 61% to 36%, went 2-2 in red-zone trips and held TTU to 2-4, went even on special teams, and won the big play battle.
This week, the first step is finding a way to take the ball away and with a redshirt freshman at quarterback, it would look like the Colonels could be vulnerable there. However, so far this year Parker McKinney has only thrown two interceptions because they can pick their spots to attack in the air with their effectiveness on the ground.
“They do such a good job of taking care of him in the run game,” Defensive Coordinator Jake Johnson said. “Their gig is that they’re going to run the football and get you with play-action pass and RPOs and those things. With how well they run the ball with their guys, it’s hard to play some of those zone coverages and things you’d really like to get interceptions on guys. You’ve got to play man-to-man and when that happens you’re guys have to make great plays.”
There are a few weapons in the ground game for the Colonels that have to be accounted for every time they are on the field too. Daryl McClesky has 663 yards and four TDs on 84 carries as the workhorse back, meanwhile, Alonzo Booth has 415 yards and eight TDs on 58 carries as the spell back. On top of that, McKinney has also proven effective with his feet with three scores and 133 yards this year. Coach Johnson has a gameplan but the challenge that the Colonels provide is truly difficult to break down without players winning some one-on-one battles.
The Colonels also have some excellent defenders on their team, led by Corey Glass, Steven Crowder, and Aaron Patrick.
“They’re really good on defense,” Coleman said. “They do a great job getting to the ball, so we’ve got to come out ready to play offensively…They’ve got some dudes that I feel like have been there for 10 years and you’re just waiting for them to graduate. They do a great job of putting those guys in positions to be successful…It’s a great test. They’ve got guys that have been there making plays for a long time.”
“The thing I’m most impressed with from a recruiting standpoint is that this will be the best looking football team we see,” Stewart said. “When they walk into the stadium they have phenomenal length at every position, especially in their skill positions. Their front four defensively are very good and their front five offensively are very big and athletic. So, from a length and speed standpoint, they are very good.”
It’s a big game, and not just because it’s homecoming. Stewart said there’s a little more to a matchup against EKU.
“It’s what we call a state championship game around here. They are the only team in our state that’s in our league,” Stewart said. “So, it’s a big deal for us.”