THE OPENER: Racers-Wesleyan preview
The game is the season opener for both Murray State and Kentucky Wesleyan and the fourth meeting between the two schools in the series, which MSU leads 4-0. The game will be Senior Night for the Racers as the team will honor its 16 seniors prior to the game. In addition to action on the field, Thursday’s game is also the debut of new field lights, a new video scoreboard and new branding around Roy Stewart Stadium.
Murray State enters its 93rd season of football and is coming into Thursday’s game off of a 4-7 campaign a year ago. All four wins came in OVC play as the Racers went 4-4 in conference play, including two victories over top-25 opponents Eastern Illinois and Tennessee State. Murray State returns seven starters on offense and nine starters on defense.
Kentucky Wesleyan comes into Thursday’s game after a 3-8 season a year ago under head coach Brent Holsclaw, who is in his 13th season. The Panthers will be quarterbacked by Mike McGee and his main target will likely be Austin Peay transfer Jared Beard.
Kentucky Wesleyan vs. Murray State
Site: Roy Stewart Stadium – Murray, Ky.
Kickoff: Thursday, Aug. 31 – 6:00 p.m.
3 Things To Watch
It’s the most important single position in sports – the quarterback. If you have a good one you have a chance. If you don’t, it can be tough sledding. Finding a quarterback has been the primary objective for the Racers, even going back to spring practice. After a lengthy battle, junior Shuler Bentley has emerged as the starter heading into Game 1. Bentley was one of the favorites to win the job when he transferred in from Old Dominion last spring and didn’t secure the job until an impressive scrimmage performance two weeks ago. He’s a 6-foot-1, 200-pound signal caller who won’t dazzle with arm strength or foot speed, but he’s a game who seems to be at his best running the team.
All eyes will be on Bentley in his QB debut, but the Racer ground game will be under the microscope in the opener. It’s widely known that returning starter Mareio McGraw was dismissed from the team last weekend, so now the No. 1 job goes to true freshman D.J. Penick. The 5-10, 195-pounder from Highland Park, Ill. has been impressive this summer and, with McGraw out all fall camp with an injury, has been getting most of the reps with the No. 1 offense. He’s elusive, fast and strong and Kentucky Wesleyan is a great opponent for the freshman runner’s debut. In addition to the RBs, the Racer offensive line needs to have a solid game against the Division II foe.
For the first time in a long time (decades?) the Racer defense may be the strength of this year’s team, especially early on. With nine returning starters and more depth than previous seasons, defensive coordinator Chris Boone’s defense comes into 2017 with some rather high expectations. As for the season opener, this unit doesn’t have to dominate and post a shutout, but an impressive night with few missed tackles and few big plays would go a long way to building confidence heading into next week’s game against Central Arkansas.
With a huge home game against No. 15 Central Arkansas looming next Saturday at Stewart Stadium, don’t look for the Racers to be very exotic in their offensive and defensive game plans. Head coach Mitch Stewart will want to keep things simple and rely on his team’s superior depth and talent to (hopefully) pull away from the Panthers.