(STATS) - Looking to bounce back from another lopsided defeat and trying to avoid its first 0-4 start in 28 years, Murray State will have quarterback KD Humphries available to help accomplish both.
After missing last weekend's forgettable 50-17 loss to Southern Illinois with a shoulder injury, the senior will be under center Saturday night when the Racers open Ohio Valley Conference play against visiting Southeast Missouri State (0-3). Coach Mitch Stewart said sitting Humphries against the Salukis was more of a precaution than anything, considering it was a nonconference contest.
"KD feels fine, feels great," Stewart said. "He's full go. The trainer said he's full go.
"He was, to be honest with you, kind of pissed at me last week because I didn't let him play. But it is what it is."
Though Humphries has thrown for more than 7,800 yards and 52 touchdowns in four seasons at Murray State, he's struggled in 2016 while throwing two TD passes and five interceptions. He's been sacked seven times and has yet to rush for a score after doing so 11 times the past two years.
Humphries, however, is a team leader who provides a valuable veteran presence on a young squad. While his throws have been limited in practice, Stewart said the reigns will come off Humphries this weekend. Even when it comes to tucking and running the ball.
"He's got to play the way he's played ball up to this point," Stewart said.
"Moving forward, the trick to KD right now is me getting enough reps during the week with him so that he feels comfortable with the game plan and with what he's supposed to do. At the same, limiting his throws as much as possible so that we can get his shoulder to calm done as much as we can."
Humphries has had his moments against SEMO, which last opened 0-4 in 2013. In 2014's 44-41 double-overtime home victory over the Redhawks, he threw for a career-high six touchdowns. The Racers fell 27-10 last season at SEMO, but Humphries threw for 363 yards.
How successful Murray State is Saturday night, however, might depend on how much its defense can improve. The Racers rank 114th in the FCS allowing 514 yards per contest and have yielded at least 50 points twice already.
Though SEMO is 8 for 8 in the red zone, it hasn't scored more than 24 points and dropped the last two by a combined 11. The Redhawks led 24-13 with 4 minutes left in the fourth quarter at home last Saturday against Indiana State, but ended up falling 27-24 as the Sycamores scored the go-ahead TD with 10 seconds remaining
"You got no choice (than to move on)," coach Tom Matukewicz said. "We're not dwelling on anything. Our future starts now."
Redhawks senior Tremane McCullough rushed for a career-best 220 yards and a TD on 27 carries against Murray State last season. This year, though, he's gained 103 without a score on 21 attempts. McCullough has caught 15 passes for 132 yards.
This matchup highlights the first full slate of league games on the weekend.
Following an impressive 24-21 victory over then-No. 5 Illinois State, Eastern Illinois (2-1) - 18th in the STATS FCS Top 25 - tries to extend winless Austin Peay's road losing streak to 39 games. UT Martin (1-2) recorded an 84-6 drubbing of NAIA Bacone College last weekend, but should be in for a stiffer test Saturday against Tennessee Tech (1-2, 0-1).