Murray State will bring their hurry-up/spread offense into Papa Johns Cardinal Stadium Saturday night hoping to continue their fast start to the season. Murray dismantled Union College last week, putting up 73 points with ease. Chris Hatcher brought his squad to town in 2011 and held Louisville to only 21 points in a very solid effort by his team. With such a great output from his team in week one, I'm sure he won't allow his team to think that this is just a learning experience game.
Hatcher's offense is a very basic spread offense that tries to speed up the game. First year starter CJ Bennett threw for five touchdowns in the season opener but only didn't have great numbers outside of that. The Racers played with a short field for the majority of the game and Bennett finished with only 167 passing yards while completing 59% of his passes. Bennett won't do much to impress you with his arm, but he can extend a play with his legs. Hatcher might look to spread Louisville's defense out to alleviate some of the pressure Todd Grantham is sure to bring against a fairly undersized offensive line.
The Racers will run multiple running backs throughout the game led by All-Namer Pokey Harris. An undersized back, Harris is at his best in open space. He and Marcus Holliday do well hitting the hole quickly and taking advantage of the wide splits of the offensive line. The best comparison I can think of is the old Air Raid offense at Kentucky or Washington State with Ryan Leaf. The lineman are so spread out that it creates an automatic hole to run through. Smaller backs that can make a guy miss work well because they typically don't have blockers that can get to their man at the second level. Hatcher hasn't had a feature back in the last few years and he rotates guys in to keep the offense fresh and moving as quick as possible.
There will be a lot of very small, very quick guys playing outside for the Racers. 164 pound wide receiver Janawski Davis is the main threat in the passing attack, but the philosophy of the offense is to spread the ball around as much as possible. The Racers do have some size out wide, but the players that would typically be considered tight ends split out wide as passing targets. I think that Hatcher will use as many quick passes as he can to counteract the pressure Todd Grantham's defense brings. The offense is fairly balanced for a spread attack, but there are plenty of plays that are just "stand up and throw". Bennett gets the ball, turns, and fires to the receiver that is not being pressed. We could see a lot of that Saturday.
The offensive line isn't relied on to do much other than not get beat off the snap. This is not a complex offense in any sense of the word. Guards aren't asked to pull much in the running game and the tackles aren't asked to create a solid pocket for the quarterback. Splits and communication are important to execute the offensive philosophy for the most part. With the passing game so focused on getting the ball out quick, it will be on the line to make sure that they don't let Louisville's lengthy defense get their hands up to deflect passes.
KEY PLAYERS: QB CJ Bennett, WR Janawski Davis, LT Drew Kelly, WR Jeremy Harness
The Racers run a base 3-4 defense with an adjustment into a 3-3-5 nickel package. It's hard to say how they will lineup against the Cardinals due to the lack of talent on Union's offense. The Racers stuck with their base defense a lot even when Union spread them out. As much as there was to say about the offense, there's not much to speak of on the defensive side of the ball. The front seven is very undersized and pretty slow for such a small group. Outside Linebacker, Travis Taylor is the top returning tackler and he stands out on film. He lines up 10 yards deep in zone and he will pack in tight next to the defensive end on short yardage.
The defense as a unit gave up way too many big plays to a NAIA school and Chris Hatcher made note of it on his weekly show. It would be one thing if they gave up garbage points or the defense had lapses when the score got out of hand, but they allowed big plays in the first quarter. Even the first play of the game was a screen play for a first down. The 3-4 they employ isn't an aggressive type of defense like ours, but they will blitz occasionally. Outside of that there wasn't much of a showing last week. If the team doesn't tackle much better or cover much better than they did, that score could be flipped on them with the Cards hanging a big number on them.
KEY PLAYERS: OLB Travis Taylor, SS Shawn Samuels-Connell, MLB Perry Cooper
- Chris Hatcher won the Division II National Championship in 2004 at Valdosta State
- Former Louisville Tight End Jalen Harrington is listed as a second string receiver for the Racers.
- Former Kentucky defensive tackle Thomas Chapman is now a reserve nose tackle.
- Steve Kragthorpe once beat Murray State 73-10.