Racers toting 'idenity' after Georgia game

DAVE WINDER | MSU Athletics

Murray State linebacker Anthony Koclanakis (47) celebrates after landing an early sack on Georgia quarterback Jake Fromm during last Saturday's 63-17 loss to the No. 3 Bulldogs in Athens, Ga.

A 60-yard first-quarter touchdown from Preston Rice to DaQuon Green. A 50-yard third-quarter pass from Rice to Jacob Bell against a broken pocket. Three punts of 50 yards or more from Steve Dawson. A first-quarter forced fumble from Kameron Petty. A blitzkreig first-quarter sack on likely future NFL quarterback Jake Fromm from linebacker Anthony Koclanakis. A third-quarter pick-six from Nigel Walton.

Yes, Murray State coach Mitch Stewart has a list of 30-to-35 "football plays" from this past weekend's 63-17 loss to No. 3 Georgia, in which his Racers displayed what he called "tremendous effort."

Now, the bar is set for the rest of the season. Offer anything less, and he and his staff will find the next man to unleash better effort.

"What that allows us to do is to go back in every game we play (and every practice) and say, 'Hold on a minute now, this isn't the same effort that I see on this clip,'" Stewart said. "So, we've been able to establish a very high bar and a very high standard in which we can play now."

The guy who, perhaps, set the bar the highest is Rice, who completed 20 of 25 passes for more than 200 yards while committing no turnovers.

Sure, he took five sacks against a relentless Bulldogs pass rush, but he found a touchdown early, extended plays and clearly cemented what this team's identity wants to be -- "toughness and grit" -- with an ad-hoc 35-yard gain late in the second quarter, in which he was dragging guys toward the end of the run.

And it was just his second collegiate start.

"We've never played in an environment like that," Stewart said. "(Almost) 95,000 people; 95,000 people is a lot different than 50,000 people or 70,000 people. And you're talking 95,000 people that eat, breathe and sleep football. ... It is a tremendous environment, and that kid goes in there and throws 80%? ...

"I'll be honest with you: the play that kind of solidified Preston Rice to me was the one before that (50-yard pass to Bell) where he scrambled out there on a 35-yard run. Shrugged a dude off. Kept running after contact and all that. That's the Preston Rice that I know. That's the Preston Rice I recruited. That's the Preston Rice that I know we have. He's set the standard high for himself, as well, but they say you'd rather get clotheslined by a high bar than tripped by a low bar any day of the week. That's what we're going to do."

Since effort doesn't seem to be like an early-season problem for this bunch, execution is the key focus.

At least, that's how senior defensive back Dior Johnson feels, as he returns closer to his hometown Detroit with the visit to Toledo on Saturday.

"The effort was there (against Georgia), but it's little things like fitting in gaps and running to the ball on every play," he said. "Those are the little things that are going to get us to where we want to get to later on in the season.

"I feel like we know what type of talent we have. We just have to make sure we prove it each and every week."

And by the end of the season, Stewart hopes this mentality has created a brand of football.

"They better not be entitled and they better not be arrogant, but there's a reason they're confident," Stewart said. "The best thing I thought coming out of that (Georgia) game is that we finally created a brand of football. And I say that (because) we haven't had that in an awfully long time. A true brand of football, where there was a toughness that showed up. Where there was a grit that showed up.

"And that was my conversation to the guys (on Sunday night). 'Protect your brand. Continue to create your brand. Continue to develop your brand. Protect that brand.' Right now, you've made a name for yourself as a very gritty football team. A football team that has fun playing, and they're tough, and they'll play every down, every quarter, every series. That's what we're going to emphasize from here on out. Protect that brand, and play that type of football. They should be confident coming out of a game like (Georgia)."

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