My plan for the remaining days before the season starts is to briefly preview each game on the schedule. Since I've already written 4,000 words each about 11 of Mizzou's 12 opponents for SBN, my plan is to basically reference those pieces and discuss where Mizzou's biggest advantages and disadvantages lie. Murray State, however, is an FCS opponent that didn't get the 4,000-word treatment. So here are five quick things you need to know about the Racers.
1. Head coach Chris Hatcher is an Air Raid disciple. The Macon native was at Valdosta State when Hal Mumme and offensive coordinator Mike Leach arrived; by the time his career had ended, he had thrown for more than 11,000 yards and 120 touchdowns. He was the 1994 Division II player of the year, he became a graduate assistant for Mumme at Kentucky in 1997, then quarterbacks coach in 1999, and by 2000, at age 27, he was Valdosta State's head coach. He went 76-12 in seven seasons at VSU, then moved up to Georgia Southern in 2007. His rise has been slowed since, however. He went just 18-15 at GSU and was fired, and he has gone just 18-15 in three years at Murray State.
2. The Racers are going to throw the ball. Including sacks, they attempted to pass 51 times per game last year. That's ridiculous. Last year's quarterback, Casey Brockman, completed 69 percent of his passes for 3,729 yards, 28 TDs, and 10 INTs. He is now the quarterbacks coach, and it appears that Ole Miss transfer Maikhail Miller will be the starter. He's a big boy (6'3, 234) with strong running ability for his size, so that could make for an interesting combination in the pass-happy offense.
3. Senior receiver Walter Powell, a Hazelwood East product, was an FCS All-American last year, catching 94 passes for 1,213 yards and 10 touchdowns. He's not a ridiculous big-play guy (12.9 yards per catch), but he has his moments -- nine catches for 172 yards versus Austin Peay, 14 for 196 versus UT-Martin, eight for 133 versus Eastern Kentucky. He was about the best thing MSU had going against Florida State in a 69-3 loss last year; he caught nine passes for 62 yards.
4. Pass defense was an enormous issue for the Racers in 2012. Opponents completed 65 percent of their passes, and the MSU pass rush was almost non-existent. Averaging 6.5 yards per pass attempt (as MSU did) is decent, but allowing 7.6 is bad. The secondary is experienced, at least, but unless a newcomer (Middle Tennessee transfer Jerrold Frazier or one of three JUCO transfers) boosts the pass rush, that probably doesn't matter.
5. At the very least, this game should test Mizzou's young backups in the secondary. The odds are pretty good that Murray State will put together a decent drive or two in the first half, to the consternation of fans, but unless there are serious deficiencies at play, unless Mizzou misses a ridiculous number of tackles, or unless Maikhail Miller turns into a bigger Armanti Edwards, there shouldn't be much to worry about after halftime.
This is the type of season opener I like. It's not a Savannah State, hot-knife-through-butter opponent, but it also isn't one that should be able to test Missouri for four full quarters. We'll learn some things about Mizzou's young defensive backs, we'll get to see exactly what the Mizzou receiving corps is capable of, and we'll start to find out if (or how much) the MU offensive line has improved. And at the end of the evening, we should be celebrating that Mizzou is 1-0. Give me something in the Mizzou 52, Murray State 17 neighborhood.