MURRAY —When it comes to college football opponents, only two teams rank higher and therefore tougher than the Racers foe this week, the Georgia Bulldogs. The FBS Bulldogs are ranked No. 3 in the nation heading into today’s game and are coming off a 30-6 win over Vanderbilt on the road, and they did it decisively, holding the Commodores to 116 yards rushing and 109 yards passing and just a pair of field goals.
Racers head coach Mitch Stewart said there is a difference between playing a team at the FBS (Football Bowl Series) level compared to playing Georgia.
“It’s one thing to play an FBS opponent, but it’s a completely different animal to play an FBS opponent that has a legitimate shot to be a national contender, so it’s quite an opportunity for our guys,” Stewart said. “Quite an environment that we will have, one that we are not used to playing in, so it’s going to be a lot of fun. It’s going to be a battle and we are really looking forward to the challenge.”
The Racers are going to have a difficult time against the Bulldogs, but coach Stewart said his staff has a plan and it will all come down to continuing to battle through everything that happens today.
“Well, we’ve thought about trying to put some bad food in their pregame,” Stewart joked. “I’m teasing, but we have to execute. Here’s my message to the team, ‘In every fight, if you are looking at a boxing match, the winner of that boxing match is always bloody. He’s always got cuts on his face … You really can’t tell if he was the winner or the loser until you see see the other guy. So we’ve got to go into it understanding that we are going to be put in some uncomfortable situations…We’ve got to try to take the fight to them because the fact of the matter is that once we run out onto that football field and that door closes, you’re in, you’re in the ring and you’ve got 30 game minutes until you get back to the locker room at halftime. There’s no turning back.’”
Playing a team as talented as Georgia provides the guys with a unique opportunity to put their skills on display against the cream of the crop from the SEC and the nation.
“The biggest thing from a competitive standpoint is that these guys get to put their talents out there against the best, especially this week, legitimately against the best that there is in the land,” Stewart said. “It’s cool to see once you come in on Sunday, how many of your guys had success and how many clips you can pull up in that team meeting and go, ‘Hey look at this guy making a play. Look at the effort this dude is playing with,’ and you can build on those things because they get to compare themselves to the best that do it.”
It’s a matchup that has the Racers as extreme underdogs, but the head coaching matchup has some intrigue to it because Stewart played football at Valdosta State under head coach Chris Hatcher and assistant Kirby Smart. They were major contributors to Stewart deciding to pursue coaching.
“They had a lot of fun doing it and ultimately it’s what got me into this job,” Stewart said. “I went into school wanting to be a business major. I wanted to be a banker, and I started seeing how much fun those guys were having coaching and that was a turning point in my life. Watching those guys coach and have a blast doing it, I said, ‘I need to get on this,’ and I changed my major and the rest is history.”
Today, as the Racers take the field, they may be outmatched, but Stewart said they will not be outworked. He said there is one area of the game that the Racers will be better than the Bulldogs.
“Energy and effort, and I mean that in all seriousness,” Stewart said. “We are going to go down there and we are going to play hard. We are going to be the harder playing team that day, and we are going to do everything as good as we can do it. We are going to be the best version of ourselves … Does that mean we are going to be successful in those situations? I don’t know, because there are going to be spots where they are going to be better. They are going to be more talented, but I can promise you this: nobody is going to leave that stadium thinking that we cowered down or folded the tent.”
For the Bulldogs’ part, they are not overlooking the Racers, but they remain confident.
“Murray State has an extremely respectable game,” said Jordan Davis, sophomore defensive lineman for the Bulldogs. “They are very explosive, scoring 40 or more points in five out of nine games. They have an explosive offense, both running and passing, that we are going to need to stop. They have a very athletic team. I was watching some highlight clips and their running back is extremely explosive. And, not to discredit our offense, but their defense is also explosive so we just need to play an all-around good game. Continue to think about us and what we know how to do, and we should be fine.”
The non-conference schedule is reminiscent of what Murray State played last year, and it resulted in the team being prepared by the time conference play opened up, surprising a lot of people. The hope is that the experience of playing at Georgia could help the team build confidence and find out that they can compete at the highest level. That should hopefully translate well to the rest of the season against lesser opponents than that of the Bulldogs.