MURRAY -- It was the fast start Mitch Stewart has been so desperately seeking from his team.
But the fifth-year Murray State football coach wasn't left with many positives on Saturday afternoon, after Tennessee Tech scored 17 unanswered points on the way to a 17-7 win over the Racers at Roy Stewart Stadium.
Three plays into the game, MSU defensive back Marcis Floyd picked off TTU quarterback Bailey Fisher's throw into double coverage.
Racer quarterback Preston Rice completed three straight passes on the ensuing drive - all to the team's leading wideout in LaMartez Brooks - with the final toss being an 11-yard touchdown for a 6-0 lead at 13:10 of the first quarter.
But from there, the Golden Eagles would grind out 209 yards rushing on 59 team carries, and Fisher wound up being more than efficient. His 20-yard swing pass to David Gist gave Tech a 9-7 lead with 12:41 left in the second quarter, and his 31-yard playaction pass to running back Andrew Goldsmith gave Tech a 16-7 advantage with 27 seconds left in the third quarter.
The biggest concern, however, was MSU's offense - which was pedestrian at its best, and downright lethargic at its worst.
"It's effort," Stewart said. "Enthusiasm. Passion. Predictability. It's dynamics. It's doing different things on different downs. It's putting guys in successful situations. It's decision making."
Rice had two interceptions in the red zone - the first with 5:21 left in the second quarter, and the second with 6:32 left in the game - but did complete 23 passes to eight receivers for 196 yards.
The Racer rushing attack also never had liftoff, either. After MSU's Jared McCray was dinged up in the first quarter on the team's first carry, the next rushing playcall didn't come until just under 12 minutes left in the second quarter.
McCray would eventually return in the fourth quarter and gain 45 yards on five carries, but the Racers would finish with just 71 rushing yards on 23 attempts. And MSU's third-down conversion rate? Just 2-for-11, facing - on average - a shade above eight yards needed per conversion.
Tech, meanwhile, went 9-for-19 on third down - converting three third-and-longs on passes from Fisher, while playing a magnificent game of keep-away from MSU with a 39:08-to-20:52 time of possession advantage.
"We're going to take a look at some things tonight," Stewart said, wasting little time, "and figure out some ways to improve offensively. Because offensively, that isn't going to get it done. That's not going to get it done right there. Turnovers in the red zone. Third down percentages. All of that stuff. It's not good enough.
"This university deserves better. Those players in that room deserve better than that performance right there. Very disappointed overall in tonight's football game."
MSU defense bends, doesn't break
Aside from two missed assignments on touchdowns, MSU's defense was intrepid once again - yielding 17 points on 84 TTU plays.
It's a gaudy rushing average for the Golden Eagles (209 yards), sure, but at 3.7 yards per tote. One of the nation's top tacklers, MSU's Anthony Koclanakis, tallied 18 more on Saturday, while Alec Long forced another fumble - MSU's 13th of the season - late in the fourth quarter.
"They use their quarterback to run the football a lot," Koclanakis said of TTU. "Today, they said they were going to run the football right at us. The stats do look a little deceiving, but today they ran the ball right through us."
Fisher finished with 49 yards on 15 carries, while Gist (22 carries, 101 yards) and Goldsmith (17 carries, 54 yards) did the heavy lifting.
TENNESSEE TECH 17, MURRAY STATE 7
Tennessee Tech 3 7 7 0 - 17
Murray State 7 0 0 0 - 7
MURR LaMartez Brooks 11 pass from Preston Rice (Zaden Webber PAT), 7-0, 13:10 1Q
TTU Haidar Saidan 23-yard FG, 7-3, 6:39 1Q
TTU David Gist 20 pass from Bailey Fisher (Haidar Saidan PAT), 10-7, 12:41 2Q
TTU Andrew Goldsmith 31 pass from Bailey Fisher (Haidar Saidan PAT), 17-7, 0:27 3Q
First downs 16 25
Rushes-yards 71 209
Passing 196 206
Comp-Att-Int 23-34-2 20-28-1
Punts-Avg. 6-40.8 2-37.5
Fumbles-Lost 0-0 1-1
Penalty-Yards 4-46 2-22
Time of Pos. 20:52 39:08
RUSHING: MURR Jared McCray 6-45, Cory Thomas 5-18, Preston Rice 8-4, Ethan Thompson 4-4. TTU David Gist 22-101, Andrew Goldsmith 17-54, Bailey Fisher 15-49, John Jones 2-5.
PASSING: MURR Preston Rice 23-34-196-2-1. TTU Bailey Fisher 20-28-206-1-2.
RECEIVING: MURR Ty Terrell 6-36, LaMartez Brooks 5-68-1, DaQuon Green 4-40, Armani Hayes 3-22, Ethan Thompson 2-10, Jared McCray 1-11, Sylvaughn Turner 1-7, Brion Sanchious 1-2. TTU David Gist 5-45-1, Darrius Stafford 5-45, Seth Huner 2-25, Brad Clark 2-25, Metrius Fleming 2-21, Andrew Goldsmith 1-31-1, Tavin Kilpatrick 1-10, Adam Browner 1-4, D.J. Wilkes 1-0.
MURR 4-6 (2-4 OVC); TTU 5-4 (2-3 OVC)