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The season started with all the fanfare you would expect. Jacksonville State was ready to upset one of the big boys of college football with the Marching Southerners in the stands to watch. Little did they know Coach John Grass‘ head-coaching debut would be a nightmare of a game.

Michigan State scored twenty-one points in the first quarter and never looked back. The JSU rushing attack was left back in Alabama, and the new starters in the secondary had to grow up fast to keep up with the Spartans.

Only two Gamecocks had outstanding games: receiver Josh Barge snagged seven passes for 98 yards and linebacker Ben Endress made ten tackles. Michigan State quarterback Connor Cook threw for 287 yards and three touchdowns in one half. Receiver Tony Lippett caught two touchdowns and gained 167 receiving yards for the Spartans.

Full Stats

JSU quarterback Eli Jenkins started strong, but dropped passes and two interceptions kept the offense scoreless in the first quarter.

Michigan State started to settle in midway through the 2nd quarter and used the traditional Big Ten offense to give the Gamecocks a heavy dose of the running game. The I formation allowed a fullback and linemen to double-team defensive tackle Caleb Lawrence. On the bright side, Lawrence looks great on national television.

Caleb Lawrence Belly

This was the sexiest part of JSU’s night (Big Ten Network).

At the end of the first half, the Gamecocks were down 38-0.  Michigan State was not Ole Miss, and Coach Houston Nutt was not on the opponent’s sideline.

Legendary Coach Lou Holtz said it best:

Coach Grass yanked Jenkins after halftime and put in Max Shortell to continue with last year’s dual-quarterback system. The surprising call proved wise as Markis Merrill caught a pass from the ex-Big Ten quarterback to score.

Markis Merrill

Markis Merrill scored the Gamecocks’ only touchdown of the night (Big Ten Network).

Shortell’s success against the Spartan’s second-string defense creates an interesting but familiar subplot. Does Grass start Jenkins next week to run the ball, or does Shortell get the nod with the better arm? Jenkins has improved as a passer, but Shortell is still the pure passer of the team.

The defense’s youth was the demise for the Gamecocks, as the secondary gave up three touchdown passes to start the game. Additionally, many defensive players were attempting dive tackles rather than the tried-and-true method of wrapping up. The one bright spot of the night was senior linebacker Ben Endress’ return to the starting defense. He racked up double-digit tackles and made excellent plays throughout the game.

Welcome to the growing pains of a top-tier FCS team, Jacksonville State. Our memories quickly forget the shutout JSU suffered in 2012 to end Jack Crowe’s coaching career. Michigan State is one of the best teams in the country, and they proved it tonight. The Gamecocks got out of East Lansing with their egos bruised but a few hundred thousand dollars richer.

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OVC Ball
Final Word (11/13): Jacksonville State stands alone…in basketball too.

2017-18 Basketball Standings

OVC Overall
Jacksonville State 0-0 2-0
Tennessee Tech 0-0 1-1
Murray State 0-0 1-1
Southeast Missouri* 0-0 1-1
Belmont 0-0 1-1
Eastern Kentucky 0-0 1-1
Tennessee State 0-0 1-1
Eastern Illinois 0-0 0-1
SIUE 0-0 0-1
Austin Peay 0-0 0-2
Morehead State 0-0 0-2
UT Martin 0-0 0-2

*Ineligible for postseason (APR)