Bob Casey hasn't had to dig deep into his bag of coaching tricks.
Coaches need to be part psychologist at times to keep their squads motivated through some of the rougher patches of a football season.
It stands to reason that might be the case for a Merced College team that's off to a disappointing 1-4 start, but all Casey's had to do is point to the Golden Gate Conference standings.
The Blue Devils aren't the only team to stumble out of the gate, with no GGC team racking up more than two wins heading into the sixth week of the season.
"No matter how you look at it, we're just a game out of first place," Casey said. "Even with everything that's gone wrong. Even with all the injuries, we're still right there and the guys understand that."
Injuries have decimated MC the last two weeks on both sides of the ball, but it hasn't seemed to get the team's spirit down.
It showed at Tuesday's practice as the group went through their drills with energy and hustle.
Having the team's top two quarterbacks Javon Smith and Travis Middleton back on the field taking regular reps, doesn't hurt, either.
It gives the Blue Devils hope that after two weeks of offensive frustration, they can get back in the win column when they host Sacramento City College (1-4) on Saturday. Kickoff is set for 1 p.m. at Stadium '76.
"The main thing is the guys are excited to be playing at home again," Casey said. "We've had to fight through some things outside of our control and I think it's why the guys haven't seemed to ever get down for long.
"We're trying to get healthy. We've moved a little closer to that and hopefully we can build some momentum going into conference."
To do that, MC will need to slow down a Jaguars attack that has averaged 53 pass attempts and over 300 passing yards the last three weeks behind quarterback Justin Moore.
It's been feast or famine for the Merced defense the last two weeks, forcing nine turnovers and recording eight sacks while also surrendering over 700 yards through the air.
The big play has particularly hurt, with the Blue Devils surrendering five touchdowns of 25 yards or more.
The offense hasn't done the defense any favors during the span, putting it in bad spots with nine turnovers of its own and leaving it on the field too long by failing to sustain drives.
"We can't afford to spot teams 20, 30 points anymore," Casey said. "We have to start faster, and hopefully getting our first-team offense back out there will help with that."
Sun-Star sports writer Sean Lynch can be reached at 385-2476 or firstname.lastname@example.org.