By Clay Ward
Next to Western Kentucky, Murray State (2-5, 1-3 OVC) is the longest running rivalry on Eastern Kentucky’s 6-2, 6-0) schedule and a team to not be taken lightly.”We got to get ready to play,” said Eastern Head Coach Danny Hope.
Eastern needs to win only two of its three games left in order to capture the Ohio Valley Conference championship and move on to the NCAA Football Championship Series playoffs.
“The light at the end of the tunnel is defiantly getting a lot closer,” said junior fullback Jake Tamaska.
Eastern is nationally ranked 17th and first in the OVC, it is the only undefeated team in the conference, and has just come off a huge game against Tennessee State winning 49-7.
Murray State last week faced Southeast Missouri State and also came out with a victory 31-17 giving the Racers their first OVC win.
After last year’s 51-21 defeat at the hands of the Colonels, Murray State may be looking for retribution with or without a winning record.
“It’s a big-time rivalry and they always get up to play Eastern,” said senior defensive end Cardius Dowell
While the Racers offense seems to hold up its end of the deal, scoring 25.4 points per game, the defense makes it hard to win, allowing the team to still be out-score by just less than 12 points per game.
While the Racers’ are a relatively balanced team, it’s the pass they lean toward. Leaning toward it with inexperienced freshman Jeff Ehrhardt throwing the ball may not be the best idea.
With OVC defensive player of the week senior Derrick Huff leading the secondary, the Colonels could see its +17 turnover margin(leading all FCS) go up still.
“He keeps everybody crunk, everybody pumped up,” said Dowell.
After last week against Tennessee State, tying a career-best nine tackles and returning a interception 68 yards for a touchdown, it’s no wonder the defense looks up to him.
“We refer to derrick as a low-rep guy, he doesn’t take many reps to learn his assignment and can line up and play his position. He’s a heck of a football player,” said Coach Hope.
Hope expressed not just excitement about Huff but how the defense has done in general this season, and how statistically it may not be impressive but they’re physical and seem to make the big play week to week.
The inexperience in the air may be relieved by ground support from Murray State’s runners.
“They’ve got a couple of big strong running backs, very good running game,” Coach Hope said.
The Racers’ running game are led by sophomore running back Charlie Jordan, who averages over five yards a carry and almost 500 yards on the year.
With only two wins on the season, NAIA team Lambuth and Southeast Missouri State who is currently ranked last in the OVC, the Racers will need to see more production defensively.
Regardless of the win/lose record, Eastern players insist Murray State is a contender.
“They’re going to come out swinging, so we got to bring our A game,” Tamaska said.
The Colonels seem to have found a third weapon on the ground in sophomore running back C.J. Walker.
Filling in for an ill senior running back Mark Dunn, Walker took advantage of his opportunity totaling 138 yards and a touchdown on the ground in only 10 carries.
Dunn is expected to return but is not confirmed to play.
That gives Eastern three very capable runners against a defense giving up over 37 points a game.
But with the eerie state of being second in the conference three of the last four years the Colonels won’t take this game lightly.
“We know what we have to do. We have to stay focused and beat Murray State. That’s the best way for us to go about achieving all of our goals and aspirations and dreams,” Coach Hope said.