MURRAY — It’s hard to tell what this Murray State Racers football team is truly capable of because the first two games of the year have been incredible mismatches against or in favor of the Racers.
In week one, they took on NAIA opponent UPIKE and dominated but made several mistakes. Then they followed it up with a loss on the road at Georgia. It was a game full of positives as they stayed close with Georgia early and made some plays against the potential College Football Playoff team ranked inside the top five.
Dior Johnson, who led the team in tackles against the Bulldogs, said the team was able to perform at a high level despite the opponent.
“We played hard,” Johnson said. “We didn’t back down from Georgia, and it was a great experience. We took it in and we went out there with great effort.”
Now, the Racers will face another road test against an FBS team in Toledo. They aren’t on the level of a team like Georgia, but they have offensive weapons that can give teams fits, and have already this year. They opened their season up against the University of Kentucky and hung tight with them for a majority of the game.
Toledo is 0-1 after losing 38-24 to the Wildcats, but they have positive they took away from the loss just like the Racers. In the meeting against UK, they racked up 213 yards rushing, 166 yards passing, and forced four fumbles with two recoveries. Quarterback Mitchell Guadagni was 7-12 for 122 yards and had 73 yards rushing on 14 carries. Toledo used two quarterbacks in the loss due to an injury to Guadagni.
Racers head coach Mitch Stewart said Toledo’s quarterback is a true dual threat that they will have to contain on Saturday.
“They’ve got a quarterback that can run,” Stewart said. “He’s a true dual threat guy. He got a concussion against Kentucky, so I think we are waiting to see who will play that quarterback spot. From what I understand, it was his third concussion in five games or something like that, so they’re trying to figure out where he’s at, but if he shows up on the field, you’ve got to be aware. If you let that dude get outside of contain, you’re in trouble because he’s like a receiver back there running around.”
The challenge that awaits the Racers in Toledo is one that Stewart said they are not overlooking. He knows that they have to find a way to slow down the speed on Saturday.
“This is another really, really good opponent,” Stewart said. “They were picked to win their division. Their skill players are tremendous. Their team speed offensively, defensively, their returners, their skill players are some of the best and dynamic that I’ve seen. They are really good.”
“We look at every opponent as equal to us,” Johnson said. “We can only beat ourselves. If we go into each week with that mentality, we should be fine. Toledo will be a great test for us … but we’ll go into it with the right mindset and we should prove to a lot of people that we are a good opponent.”
With the game at Georgia behind them, Stewart spent some time looking over the film and said they have raised the bar for the season.
“I wound up tagging about 30-35 plays where there was tremendous effort shown on the field, so now what that allows us to do is go back every game we play and every practice and say, ‘Hold on a minute now, this isn’t the same effort that I see on this clip,’” Stewart said. “We’ve been able to establish a very high bar, a very high standard that we know we can play at now, and it’s our job to hold everybody accountable to those standards no matter who we play from here on out.”
Even though the loss was big on the scoreboard, Stewart said his guys have a confidence about them after competing to a high level with one of the top teams in the nation and they will carry that out onto the field against Toledo and every other team they play this year.
“There is a reason to be confident,” Stewart said. “The best thing out of that game was that I thought we created a brand of football. We haven’t had that in an awfully long time, maybe ever. It was a true brand of football, where there was a toughness that showed and a grit that showed up and that was my conversation to the guys, ‘Protect your brand. Continue to create that brand and continue to develop that brand, because right now you’ve made a name for yourself as a very gritty football team. A team that has fun playing and they’re tough and they’ll play every down … and that’s what we’re going to do.’”
“We know what type of talent we have, we just have to make sure we prove it each and every week,” Johnson said.