After two grueling weeks on the road, the Morehead State football team returns to Jayne Stadium this weekend to host longtime rival Eastern Kentucky University on Saturday night at 7.
The Eagles are 0-3 on the year and most recently lost to Pioneer Football League member Jacksonville, 69-19.
While the loss was lopsided, MSU coach Rob Tenyer said his players still believe in the program and it has shown in practice.
“It’s been really good and we’ve had some good leadership with some guys stepping up and being very vocal,” Tenyer said. “They assured us our team morale is very good and they’re on board and follow the plan.”
The Eagles and Colonels hold a rivalry that stands the test of time. Tenyer and his players are looking forward to going up against EKU.
“I’ve been here long enough at MSU to understand what this rivalry means,” Tenyer said. “There’s a strong tradition regarding football. Overall they have a big lead in the series but it’s always been ‘the game.’ … We understand what this rivalry means.”
EKU holds a 50-16-4 overall advantage in the series, including a 22-7-3 advantage in Morehead. The Colonels have won 25 of their last 26 games against the Eagles and have not won a game in the series since Nov. 17, 1990. To take it even further, their last home win in the series came on Nov. 20, 1971.
Tenyer, while focusing on the significance of the MSU/EKU conflict, is centering his team’s attention on getting their first win of the season.
“This game for me is more than the rivalry,” Tenyer said. “It’s us going out and executing to win a football game.”
The Colonels (1-2) pose a very big challenge for MSU. They average 361 yards of total offense, including 166 on the ground. Their quarterback, sophomore Jared McClain, is not only their leading passer (157.7 yards per game) but also their leading rusher at 54.7 yards per game.
Morehead State’s last two opponents have tallied school records for total yards — Youngstown State recorded 718 yards on Sept. 7 en route to a 67-13 win, while Jacksonville collected 719 yards last week.
“Priority No. 1 is to stop the run,” Tenyer said. “They are more two-dimensional this year than in the past years we’ve played them. (McClain) is a dual threat. They have three or four guys who carry the football for them and they’re difficult to defend. We have to limit big plays which has hurt us the first few weeks of the season.”
Morehead State finished with a season-best 223 ground yards in last week’s loss to Jacksonville. Tenyer wants to increase the running game’s efficiency this Saturday.
“We just need to be balanced,” Tenyer said. “The last time we played them, we didn’t run the ball efficiently. …We need to have runs that will be effective and have positive plays.”
Once again, freshman Austin Gahafer will get the start at quarterback but opening-game starter Logan Johnson could be used during the game. The duo combined on 123 of MSU’s 124 pass attempts this season.
But the bugaboo for the Eagles has been on offense when they have a third-down situation. MSU has converted just 29 percent (14-of-49) of its third-down attempts in 2013.
“We’re not very good in that area and we have to have plus yards on first and second (downs),” Tenyer said. “We need to be better and more efficient on third downs.”
In a rivalry game, anything can happen. The Eagles hope what happens will help MSU earn its first victory in the Rob Tenyer era.