In last Saturday's humbling 27-24 loss at winless Tennessee Tech, the Murray State Racers (4-5, 4-2 Ohio Valley Conference) didn't get off to the start they wanted.
On the ensuing kickoff after Tech had scored on the game's opening drive, sophomore running back DJ Penick had a wide-open lateral to return man and leading wideout Malik Honeycutt - who more than likely would've had a return touchdown on the "trickeration."
Instead, Penick's throw was botched and went out at the 1-yard line, and eight plays later the Golden Eagles were up two touchdowns - a hole the Racers never could fill on their way to a second-straight conference loss.
The play was a clear microcosm of the type of football MSU has been playing for the past eight quarters. Good enough to contend, but not good enough to win.
And after winning four straight conference games with moxie, edge and superior talent, fourth-year head coach Mitch Stewart is searching for that same mold the team had for a month.
"We actually had (that play) two weeks ago (against Jacksonville State) and never got to run it because they kicked out of the end zone enough times," Stewart said. "That'll be one that haunts us for a little while, because it's about as open as it could be. You watch it on tape, and it's about as open. Even if you can one-hop it, if you can just get it to (Malik Honeycutt), it's there.
"But you know, it kind of goes back to the same ol' cultural thing. We've worked it so many times over these last few weeks. Never, ever with that result. And Honeycutt told us after the game that when he and DJ Penick took the field, 'DJ looked at me and said, man I'm so nervous.'
"From a cultural standpoint, what we're going to tell that kid is 'hey, why are you nervous? Why are you nervous? We are completely 100 percent convicted that you're the dude to do that. That it's going to work."
Stewart said the toughest thing about Saturday's defeat in Cookeville was that with a share of the OVC Championship still on the line, "the other shoe dropped."
"And for us, the other shoe hasn't dropped for us all season," he added.
Offensive line hobbled
A starting unit that has had several good games this year finally had a rough one last Saturday, as quarterback Drew Anderson was hassled into taking two sacks, the offense committed eight penalties and the running game never found liftoff.
"We had some injuries that I didn't let on to, because at the end of the day…it didn't matter," Stewart said.
"That stuff doesn't matter. Everybody's got them. You've got to make your adjustments and that kind of stuff. But we've gotten pretty beat up (up) front."
"Cam (Carter) was playing on one leg until we had to take him out. We had to make a change at center and put Oistin Jones in there because Levi (Nesler's) got a little back deal. We wound up finishing the game with Levi - we put Levi in on the last drive - it was probably just one drive too late.
"But that's life. When people get their opportunities, they have to be ready when their number is called. We're going to have some more guys do that this week. It is what it is. You just have to respond to it the right way."
"Oistin did an admirable job. He had a couple timing issues, a couple of snap issues. First game jitters. But we'll get him worked out of it, and we have to go to that situation again, we'll be fine."
SEMO has "that look"
Murray State's final home game of the season? The Southeast Missouri State Redhawks (7-2, 5-1 OVC), set for this Saturday at 11 a.m. in Roy Stewart Stadium.
Fifth-year Redhawks coach Tom Matukewicz and his bunch very much look the part of OVC co-leaders this year for a plethora of reasons.
The 19th-ranked squad leads the conference in turnover margin (plus-17) behind an incredulous amount of defensive interceptions (16, first in the nation), totes a potential OVC Offensive Player of the Year candidate in running back Marquis Terry (1,024 yards rushing, 11 touchdowns, 6.4 yards per rush), has an elite wideout in Kristian Wilkerson (11 touchdowns), possesses a quarterback who is getting it done in Daniel Santacaterina (23 touchdowns, six interceptions) and a linebacker in junior Louisville native Zach Hall (Male High School) with more than 100 tackles on the year. And two weeks ago, they handed Jacksonville State its first conference loss after the Gamecocks had won 33 straight in OVC play during the past three years.
"The interesting thing about them is that I see the same thing in them that we tried to create," Stewart said.
"What I mean by that is…when I watched them play Jacksonville State, they played with an edge. And that was the game for me that (looked) like a tipping point for them. I watched that game, and I was like... 'woah.' And they've kept that edge."