Minnesota not taking Murray State for granted

by John R. Carter

Introducing the next opponent for Minnesota’s football team: Murray State.

Yes, you heard right – Murray State. Not Michigan State, Ohio State or Penn State, but Murray State.

Because the tragic events of Sept. 11 forced the cancellation of the Gophers game on Sept. 15 against Baylor, University officials scheduled the little-known I-AA Racers for a much-needed 11th game this Saturday.

Minnesota and Baylor didn’t share an open date this season and thus were forced to postpone the meeting until 2004.

Don’t jump to conclusions about the name Murray in front of this State – the Gophers don’t plan on looking past the Racers. Defensive end Greg White knows all too well what can happen the Gophers don’t take an opponent seriously.

“I know how it is,” White said. “I was here when we got beat by Ohio last year, so we’re not going to take these guys lightly.”

In the second game of the 2000 season, White and the heavily favored Gophers were beaten at home by the Bobcats, 23-17.

Little was known about Ohio before the MAC team came into Minnesota and upset the Gophers. So in preparation for Saturday’s 1:30 p.m. kickoff at the Metrodome, let’s get some background on the mysterious Murray State Racers.

The school’s enrollment is just under 9,000, and it is located in western Kentucky – a safe distance of 222.5 miles from Clem Haskins’ ranch in Campbellsville.

The Racers are 3-3 on the season, with wins over Illinois State, Southern Illinois and Southeast Missouri. Losses came at the hands of Tennessee Tech, Eastern Kentucky and Mississippi.

Their coach is Joe Pannunzio, while the starting quarterback is sophomore Stewart Childress, who averages 214 yards passing per game.

Murray State’s other two offensive threats are senior receiver Michael Slater (74.5 yards per game, five touchdowns on the season) and junior tailback Garner Byars (86.2, six TDs).

That should be enough information to get the average Gophers fan through a week of anticipation for the big game.

Minnesota’s Glen Mason, on the other hand, might have the toughest coaching job of the season this week – pulling his team off cloud nine after a Homecoming upset of Michigan State to get them focused for Murray State.

“We’ve been under some pressure. We’ve had some frustration,” Mason said. “If you think for a second that I’m going to purposely allow anybody to say, `Ah, good, we’re playing Murray State,’ you’re crazy. If we don’t play well, we can get beat by Murray State. We can get beat by anybody.”

Extra points

ï Mason said he was pleased with sophomore quarterback Asad Abdul-Khaliq’s performance (11 of 23, 124 yards, one touchdown, no turnovers) against Michigan State but insists senior Travis Cole will see action during the final five games.

“It’s the same quarterback situation,” Mason said. “It hasn’t changed.”

ï Mason also said senior guard Ryan Roth, who returned to action after missing four games with a calf injury, played well but isn’t 100-percent.

“It’s obvious he’s not ready to start or play 80 snaps,” Mason said. “But he gives us a quality guy we can play (as a backup).”

Junior Jeremiah Carter has played in Roth’s place and will continue to start.