The countdown to Fighting Illini football has reached a mere three days! The Murray State Racers are first up on the schedule, and they finished 2015 with a record of 3-8 in the Ohio Valley Conference (FCS). Mitch Stewart will arrive in Champaign to begin his second season as head coach, and his team will have key starters returning on both sides of the ball. Here's a quick look at what Illinois should expect out of the Racers come opening kickoff.
|Total Scoring Offense||Passing Offense||Rushing Offense|
|30.5 PPG||347.3 YPG||118.8 YPG|
|33rd of 123||2nd of 123||102nd of 123|
How successful will the Murray State offense be this season? That all depends on redshirt-sophomore KD Humphries. Last season, Humphries tallied 347.3 yards per game with a 61.9% completion percentage while leading one of the country's best passing attacks. His favorite target was graduated senior Paul Rice, so all eyes are on preseason all-OVC pick Jesse Blackburn, who had 40+ receptions for over 600 yards last season. The Racers' run game is split between Humphries (100 carries last season) and redshirt-junior Mark Dodson II (transfer from the Ole Miss Rebels).
|Passing Defense||Rushing Defense||Turnovers Gained|
|299.8 YPG||197.6 YPG||19 (Fum-11, INT-8)|
|122nd of 123||88th of 123||T-54th of 123|
Murray State's defense was a huge area of concern last season. The unit was next-to-last against the pass, and the run defense barely kept teams under an average of 200 yards per game. While these figures are a bit disheartening from their perspective, the Racers did manage to allow fewer points per game a year ago. Now in their second season under defensive coordinator Chris Boone, Murray State will be looking to continue that improvement with 4-2-5 scheme.
Where They're Dangerous
Again, KD Humphries will be the biggest threat for the Fighting Illini. A highly decorated athlete, Humphries is the clear leader of the team and will control the tempo of the Murray State offense throughout the game. His ability to mix in the run will force the Illinois defense to remain alert, especially throughout the first few possessions of the game.
Where They're Vulnerable
The 4-2-5 defense. With five defensive backs on the field, Garrick McGee and Wes Lunt can utilize quick passes and slant routes to slice the Racers' secondary. If/when Murray State attempts to blitz, the Illini can rely on the playmaking ability of Ke'Shawn Vaughn out of the backfield as a safety net. Don't be surprised if a well-timed screen pass results in a big play or five.
The Racers boast an all-time record of 0-3 against Big Ten opponents, losing by an average margin of 45.7 points. To get a better idea of how this squad stacks up to the Division-I ranks, just keep in mind that they allowed 50+ points to both Northern Illinois and Western Michigan a year ago. So, really, there's no reason to expect the Lovie Smith era to begin with anything other than a convincing victory.