“I think the score is very important,” head coach Chris Hatcher tells me. The question, I thought, was an easy one. Since you’re playing an NAIA team, and you’re going to win by 40, what are you looking to see out of your team?
It’s that they put up a lot of points. The Hatch Attack is back, everyone.
Murray State is in rarified air, in a way, heading into the season. Of the multitude of schools with a quarterback battle heading into camp, Murray State is one of two to come out of camp with a starter. C.J. Bennett, the senior transfer from South Alabama, will start under center for the Racers, beating out KD Humphies. Bennett was the backup in Murray last year, but threw just a single pass in a game. The year before, he appeared in six games for the Jaguars, going 55-for-122 for 580 yards and throwing four touchdowns. He was a starter the year before.
While the opponent is far from exciting, there are a few twists that should make for a unique atmosphere. It’s senior day at Murray for the season opener, and Thursday’s game will be the team’s inaugural “Gold Rush.” There will be seats for the freshman in the south endzone. If you’ve ever been to Murray, there are not usually stands in either endzone.
The much-maligned Racers defense is getting an infusion of new players. In the secondary, only senior cornerback Cadarious Sanders has played a down in a Racer uniform. Shawn Samuels-Connell has seen action while at Marshall. Corner D’Montre Wade and safety Cedric Jones redshirted last season. True freshman Jonathan Jackson will start at linebacker. New guys usually make you nervous as a fan. This is a team that probably needed major changes on a defense that ranked last in yards per game a season ago, even behind the 0-12 Austin Peay Governors.
There’s more youth on the offensive side of the ball as well, especially in the backfield. Sophomore Marcus Holliday, junior Pokey Harris and sophomore Roman Clay will all see action out of the backfield. Holliday was the third-string back last year, while Harris moved to receiver after playing running back as a freshman.
Despite being just 24-21 as the head coach of the Racers, this isn’t a make-or-break year for Hatcher, who got a contract extension over the summer, giving him the max four-years on his deal.
If you’re expecting a close game, I have bad news for you. The Bulldogs enter the 2014 season on the heels of a 3-8 NAIA campaign in 2013. They have a new head coach, and don’t have a great track record against the OVC — last year, the Bulldogs lost 63-0 against UT Martin.