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UT-Martin Coach wants atmosphere fitting of Racers’ visit
While just about anyone with any interest in tonight’s college football game at Graham Stadium is expecting a shootout, UT Martin head coach Jason Simpson wants the game to be played in a true collegiate atmosphere.
“I’ve challenged the community,” Simpson said earlier this week.
“There’s nothing about our program that’s second rate and there’s nothing about our campus that’s second class, so we need to get the attendance up. We had a great home crowd last week, and I’d just tell our students to come early and stay late. Fill the end zone and get loud. Whether you like football or not, be proud of your university.”
Simpson is hoping to create an atmosphere worthy of tonight’s showdown, which features one of the nation’s most potent offenses invading Martin for a key early-season Ohio Valley Conference meeting.
Murray State, which seems to be enjoying a football renaissance 14 games into the “Hatch Attack” offense of head coach Chris Hatcher, is off to a 2-1 start and is coming off a record-setting 58-27 win over Tennessee State last weekend.
Quarterback Casey Brockman earned league and national honors after throwing for 600 yards and seven touchdowns, and the Racers jumped into the national rankings for the first time since 2002 with a No. 24 spot in this week’s Fathead.com/The Sports Network FCS poll.
As a team, MSU is averaging 35.3 points and 483.3 yards per game.
Five different players have over 100 receiving yards, and running back Mike Harris is good enough to keep defenses honest.
“They do a great job,” Simpson said. “The quarterback does a great job, the receivers are good and you can’t overlook the running back.
Tennessee State took the run away last week, which allowed them the opportunity to throw the football.”
Completely shutting down the Racers is unlikely. So, slowing down Murray State just enough to get a lead and keep it is the plan.
“You have to mix it up, but you can’t go in saying you’re going to win 51-50,” Simpson said. “You can’t play defense that way. You’re going to give up yards. It’s like playing an option team. You’re going to give up some yards, but you can’t give up those touchdowns.”
Simpson also points out that, in the shadow of all the attention given to the offense, the Racers play pretty good defense, too.
“They went seven quarters of shutting out people. Their defense is very good,” he said. “The offense gets all the publicity, but the defense gives them a chance to win all those games. They’re good in their scheme, and they know what they want to do. They bend but don’t break at times and keep you out of the endzone. I’m very impressed with their back seven. Those guys are really fast, and the defensive line gets some push.”
MSU is giving up 384 yards but just 16 points a game, giving credence to Simpson’s bend-but-don’t-break comment.
While raw numbers might be on the Racers’ side, Simpson sees two evenly-matched teams.
“These are two very comparable football teams,” the Skyhawks’ head man said. “It’s two different styles, but very comparable athletes.”
UTM is averaging 43 points and 523 yards a game and features a balanced attack led by running back Jason McNair and quarterback Derek Carr.
MSU receiver Patrick Robertson and UTM defensive back CJ Estelle give the teams two of the most explosive special teams players in the conference, each with over 100 yards in punt returns.
While the game will be just the third of the season for UT Martin, it can be considered critical since the Skyhawks already have one loss in conference play. Another loss, Simpson pointed out, would put UTM in the position of needing to win out in its last six league games to have a shot at a title.
EXTRA POINTS: Mur-ray State leads the all-time series, which began in 1924, 35-14-1, including 16-8 in games played in Martin and 13-6 since UTM joined the OVC in 1992. … The Racers ended a five-game losing streak to UTM with last year’s 52-16 win in Murray. … MSU is looking for the 450th win in the program’s history.
By KEVIN WEAKS, NWTN Today