Will McMurry's start translate?

More news about: McMurry
McMurry's Jake Mullin
McMurry doesn't have a nickname, since the NCAA made it drop 'Indians,' but Jake Mullin and The Nation are off to a 2-0 start.
McMurry athletics photo by Gary Rhodes

The third week of the season represents a chance to begin a new for teams from the America Southwest and Southern Collegiate Athletic Conferences. Both begin their conference slates this weekend. So no matter how a team performed during the first two weeks of the season, they still have a chance at a conference championship and the automatic bid to the NCAA III Playoffs that comes with it.

And perhaps the most interesting place to be this weekend is Abilene, Texas. The defending ASC co champions, Mississippi College and Mary Hardin-Baylor, come to town to take on hometown Hardin-Simmons and McMurry respectively. The four teams currently have a combined record of 7-0.

In fact, the ASC currently has three teams in the D3football.com Top 25, including two in the top ten. All three teams moved up in the rankings this week. Mary Hardin-Baylor moved from sixth to fifth, while Hardin-Simmons made the largest jump with its win against Willamette, moving from 14th to ninth. Mississippi College entered the top 20 for the first time this season moving from 21st to 19th.

UMHB, who has won or shared the ASC title each of the past six seasons, and Mississippi College both advanced to the second record of the playoffs last season. Hardin-Simmons, of course, is usually in the hunt for a conference title and playoff berth too.

While McMurry, they're a team just one year removed from breaking a 17-game losing streak. But with a 2-0 start during which they've outscored opponents 105 to 6, they may be a team that is ready to join the top contenders in the ASC.

Now sure, the two teams the "Nation" defeated may be suspect when compared with to the powers of the ASC. But with former Division I coach Hal Mumme in his second year at the reins, this week's game against the UMHB should reveal where the program is in its development.

"They're the elite team in our conference and have been for a long time," Mumme said of UMHB, who beat McMurry 61-14 last season in Belton. "When you play them you don't play a team. You play a whole program. So that's the interesting thing for me, to see how far we progressed since last year."

Mumme, who has made his coaching name as a pioneer in the spread offense with the self-titled "Air Raid" package, has again developed a potent offense. McMurry is averaging over 50 points and nearly 500 yards of total offense through two games.

But Mumme is not the only innovator on the staff with a Division I pedigree. And it has been on defense that the "Nation" has perhaps made the most improvement under former Mississippi State defensive coordinator Joe Lee Dunn, a pioneer of the 3-3-5 defensive set. McMurry has allowed just six points through two games and an average of 138 yards per game.

"They've played great," Mumme said of his defense. "He has always been a defensive genius. He's great at putting these guys in positions where they can make plays."

The unit lost just two starters from last season and Dunn seems to found the right pieces for his scheme which included moving players, like Austin Cleere, a receiver until midway through last season, over from offense. Cleere like the rest of the unit experienced some growing pains last season.

"It took him last year to figure it out for some of them," Mumme said. "we've also added a couple of guys and grew up a little bit. Some did play last year but are playing a whole bunch right now."

One player who has grown up is senior defensive end Josh McKinnis. The senior, who posted eight sacks last season and has been a solid performer so far this season.

"He a senior and good leader," Mumme said of McKinnis who plans on joining the Marine Corps after graduation. ‘He's a guy who has figured out the system and worked extremely hard."

McKinnis in enjoying the program's recent success after experiencing a 2-18 record during his first two seasons.

"The turnaround has been incredible," McKinnis said, "It's one of the best thing things to happen at McMurry in a long time.

"We have people who know how the defensive should be run (this year). That's been important. They are doing a great job coaching us on (the scheme).

But according to McKinnis, the coaching staff has also helped develop the most important thing necessary for playing defense -- desire.

"It comes down to wanting to hit and run to the football," McKInnis said.

So with a high-powered offense and much improved defense is McMurry ready to match up with one of the elite programs in Division III over the past decade? The Crusaders have won the last three meetings by a combined score of 168 to 33.

"I think so," Mumme said. "We played them in the fourth game last year and weren't ready. Hopefully, we should match up better."

McKinnis remembers a time when thoughts of McMurry being in the game with the Crusaders were a matter of survival.

"The first two games (as a freshman and sophomore), we were just trying to go out and survive," according to McKinnis. "But now we have the No. 5 team in the nation coming in. This is what you play for.

"Honestly, no disrespect to Mary Hardin-Baylor intended, the whole thing is 'why shouldn't we beat them?' They're another team out there in the way (of our goals)."

And you get the feeling that that's what Mumme enjoys about his upstart team.

"The thing I like about this team is that they just enjoy playing the game," he said. ""They really don't care who they are playing, they're just glad it's Saturday."

We'll find out how glad this week.

Games of the Week
Mary Hardin-Baylor (1-0) at McMurry (2-0): The Crusaders scored the last 24 points of the game to defeat UW-La Crosse , a team that lost to ASC rival East Texas Baptist in Week 1. Is UMHB vulnerable this year or was it just first game mistakes against a team that had already played a game?

DePauw (1-0) at Centre (1-1): DePauw didn't miss Spud Dick in its first outing as Michael Engle threw for six touchdowns. Centre bounced back from a disappointing opening loss to Hanover. The two contenders for the SCAC title both need a win in this game.

Mississippi College (2-0) at Hardin-Simmons (2-0): The Choctaws beat the Cowboys for the first time last season on their way to the ASC championship. However, quarterback Justin Feaster and receiver ZaVious Robbins, back from season-ending injuries last year, have been tearing it up against tough nonconference opponents so far.

Austin (2-0) at Millsaps (0-2): Two new coaching staffs in this matchup. The Majors, SCAC co-champs last season, are off to a tough start but are still dangerous. The Roos, after a 4-6 record a year ago, could show they're ready to compete for the title with a win here.

Contact Info
Feel free to send me your comments at jason.bowen@d3sports.com. You can also find me on Facebook and twitter @d3jason. Hope you have a great weekend.

Brian Lester

Brian Lester is a reporter in Florida. He has 14 years of experience at newspapers in Virginia, North Carolina and Ohio, spending 10 at The Courier in Findlay, Ohio. Lester also writes an Around the Region column for D3hoops.com and wrote Around the Great Lakes for D3football.com from 2012-14. He is a graduate of Eastern Illinois.

2014 columnist: Justin Goldberg
2013 columnist: Andee Djuric
2012 columnist: Kyle Robarts
2008-11 columnist: Jason Bowen

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