Overing 19,000 were in attendence for homecoming at Jacksonville State, but the celebration was spoiled by a dominating Tennessee State defense. The Tiger’s No. 1 FCS defense was in backfield all night, sacking the Gamecocks five times. As mentioned in pregame, the team that got to the quarterback would win the game, and TSU got the ultimate prize of getting JSU quarterback Max Shortell out of the game with a knee injury in the third quarter.
Even without the help of injuries to key players, Tennessee State played an excellent game on both sides of the ball. On offense, quarterback Michael German struck receivers with precision off play action en route to three touchdown passes, and running back Tim Broughton had multiple big runs to put the Tigers in the red zone, accounting for 190 yards on the ground.
The Tigers’ offensive line did a great job executing their zone blocking scheme. In the second quarter, TSU ran the “stretch” running play four times in a row, and the lineman had some of the best bucket steps I have seen in FCS football.
As previously mentioned, the defense for TSU was the catalyst to the win. Defensive back Daniel Fitzpatrick led the Tigers with eight tackles and the interception that would eventually lead to the victory. JSU Head Coach Bill Clark mentioned the biggest issue they had running the ball was Tennessee State had the athleticism to stay in their base 4-3 defense against four wide receiver sets and stop the run with only five guys in the box. OVC juggernaut Eastern Illinois will need to take note of this when they face the Tigers.
For JSU, the best way to describe tonight’s performance is frustrating. The Gamecocks moved the ball early on some big plays by running back Troymaine Pope, but two of their three trips to the red zone resulted in field goals. This has been an issue for Jax State all year, and touchdowns on those early drives would have made a world of difference late in the game. Shortell was having a solid night prior to his injury, completing 14 of 24 passes for 131 yards. Receiver Markis Merrill had a big catch only to get a nasty hip injury when he was tackled, and he would leave the game on a stretcher. The status of the injuries to Shortell and Merrill are unreported at this time.
The one position group for JSU that really played poorly was the offensive line. Many times, TSU defenders ran past or overpowered the over-matched Gamecocks’ big men. The result was the blockers allowed 14 tackles for loss and moved the offense 61 yards backwards. The offensive line struggles and 95 yards of penalties doomed the Gamecocks.
The Gamecock defense played soundly most of the game but did give up a few big runs. Defensive linemen Caleb Lawrence and Sean Watson made multiple tackles for loss, and Lawrence got to the QB on back to back plays for force a TSU field goal that was blocked by safety Pierre Warren. The defense did their best to keep JSU in the game, but it was not enough.
The Tigers struggled early with two three and outs, while JSU moved the ball to get into TSU territory three times. The Gamecocks opened the scoring with a Griffin Thomas field goal. With the first quarter closing, Tennessee State’s offense started to click, and the Tigers would close the quarter with a 71 yard touchdown drive while JSU responded with another field goal.
The second quarter was much slower paced thanks to a typical OVC referee outing. The refs threw ten of the seventeen flags during this frame. The Tigers finished a drive with a touchdown early in the quarter and scored again prior to halftime off two German touchdown passes. This quarter really set the tone for the rest of the game and was arguably the worst played quarter by Jacksonville State all season.
The third quarter was dominated by JSU. Jacksonville State would block a field goal to grab the momentum, but they were unable to capitalize. Eventually, the Gamecocks would reach pay dirt on a quick drive that was capped off by running back DaMarcus James running it in from JSU’s heavy wildcat package.
In the fourth quarter, the Gamecock defense would force a safety to narrow the Tennessee State lead to six. TSU responded with a clutch Jamin Godfrey field goal from 50 yards out. On the ensuing drive, 3rd string JSU quarterback Kyle West threw an interception to Fitzpatrick. This sealed the game for the Tigers. Tennessee State finished the game with another touchdown and interception.
Tonight’s win by Tennessee State shows their weak schedule is not the reason for their top-ranked defense. Combining said defense with a powerful running game and a quarterback with a good play action fake is a recipe for success. Next week, Tennessee State travels to rival UT Martin, and JSU gets a week off. After the Tigers’ solid win, the TSU vs. EIU matchup at the end of the month may be the de-facto OVC championship game.