(STATS) - Murray State might not finish with a winning record this season, but there's a good chance the culture has changed for the better within a program that's been aching for some sustained success.
After knocking off ranked opponents in back-to-back weeks, the Racers (3-5, 3-2 Ohio Valley Conference) will try to win three in a row for the first time since November 2011 when they visit struggling Eastern Kentucky on Saturday.
"The biggest thing we have to face, the challenge that this football team has, especially as young as we are, is dealing with that success two weeks in a row," second-year coach Mitch Stewart said.
Murray State hasn't posted a winning record since going 7-4 during that 2011 season, but has matched its win total from each of the past two seasons after beating an Eastern Illinois team that was ranked 15th in the STATS FCS Top 25 40-38 on Oct. 22 and then-No. 25 Tennessee State 38-31 last weekend.
"It gave us a little confidence, especially a young team like mine," said Stewart, whose depth chart lists just three seniors but six true or redshirt freshmen as starters.
"It kind of validated some things that we had been preaching to the kids about the way we have practice and the way we do things," he added.
"Instead of saying to the team, 'Hey man, I'm telling you it's gonna happen, it's gonna happen. You go into the locker room and you say that it happened.' Obviously (beating EIU) gave them a great deal of confidence moving forward and to do it again last week gives them even more confidence."
Though Murray boasts one of the most generous defenses in the FCS allowing 33.9 points per contest, it's averaged 38.5 while winning three of the last four. Senior receiver Jesse Blackburn has caught 25 passes in those four games and totaled 279 receiving yards in the last two.
"He just loves playing ball," Stewart said of Blackburn, who is second on the team with 38 catches and 631 yards. "I really think that's the ultimate compliment you can give somebody."
Stewart also doesn't mind that Blackburn brings some personality to the program.
"He's crazy," Stewart said. "He's liable to show up one day in the locker room with a mohawk, and it would be colored green. Been there, done that, and it was not for Halloween, that was just on a regular Wednesday.
"I don't know exactly what he does when he leaves this building but knock on wood he stays out of trouble and when he gets here he's a football-playing dude and he loves playing the game. He's been a great asset for us."
Despite still dealing with some shoulder soreness, senior quarterback KD Humphries earned OVC offensive player of the week honors after he threw for 398 yards and five touchdowns without an interception against Tennessee State. Humphries enters this week's action ranked in the top 10 in the FCS in average completions (28.3), average passing yards (323.1), average total offense (323.3) and passing yards (2,262).
He threw for 715 yards with three TDs and an INT in his last two games against Eastern Kentucky (2-6, 1-4), which has won 13 of 15 in the series.
The Colonels, however, have dropped three in a row and been outscored 57-10 in the last two weeks.