This week’s team report for Jacksonville State looks at the positives and negatives from the first leg of the season. Four weeks in, there are as many question marks surrounding Jacksonville State as there were in August. Does the only undefeated team left in the OVC have a shot at the conference title?
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The Gamecocks are still rotating the quarterbacks. Eli Jenkins, Max Shortell, and Kyle West have all taken snaps, but Jenkins has started three of the four games. The offense, led by Coach John Grass, has not lived up to the claims made during the preseason. While we should give the offense some credit for the progress they have made, there is still a lot to be desired. The Gamecocks ran wild against Jacksonville, but the offense has since been inconsistent. Yes, JSU is 2nd in the conference in offensive production (426.5 yards per game), but that includes games against a non-scholarship opponent and a D-II school. The most glaring statistic is the offense has not been able to seal the deal in the red zone, scoring touchdowns on only 45% of their trips. While the OVC is not known for its defense, Tennessee State, EIU, and EKU could all be tough games if the offense does not find an every-down quarterback.
The only solid part of this Jacksonville State team is the defense. While the offense has sputtered throughout the season, Coach Bill Clark’s highly vaunted defensive scheme has kept the Gamecocks in all four games. They lead the league in sacks and red zone defense. Alabama State and North Alabama did not reach the end zone until the fourth quarter. While this defense is yet to face a highly-potent offense, expect them to hold their own in most games. The only team they should have a problem stopping is Eastern Illinois.
The special teams have had great and terrible moments, most notably a five field goal game by Thomas Griffin versus North Alabama and a back-to-back turnover 4th quarter that led to a 14-point rally by Georgia State. Kick returner Gabe Chambers is still fighting nagging injuries, but Telvin Brown has filled the role nicely.
So far, the standout players this season are Safety Brandon Bender and punter Hamish MacInnes. Bender leads the team with 32 tackles and a pair of forced fumbles. Bender looks like a leader on the field and the sidelines between drives. MacInnes is 2nd in the OVC and 18th in the country, averaging 43 yards per punt. The Australian native has had a big impact in the close games by pinning the opposition deep in their own territory when the Gamecock offense failed to move the chains.
Heading into conference play this week at home against Murray State, it is hard to say what way this team will go. While they have proven minor setbacks do not get them down, the margin of error this year in the OVC is smaller than it has ever been. Jacksonville State has to play sound football in all three phases of the game to have a shot at winning the conference. The Gamecocks and Clark are following the “Beamer Ball” strategy, stating good defense and special teams wins games. The most important games of the season are on the road against UT Martin and Eastern Illinois, the frontrunners for the conference crown. Expect the Gamecocks on the outside looking in when the playoff spots are given out, but it looks to be a successful first year under Clark.