Daniel Mayes, Chanty Sports Reporter
In both of Jacksonville State football’s last two games, the team has struggled to a sluggish start.
It took the Gamecocks until their third drive in Saturday’s 23-7 homecoming win against Southeast Missouri State to put up their first points, a 65-yard catch-and-run from Kendrick Doss to Trae Barry, and even then that was their only points in the first quarter and only touchdown before late in the fourth quarter.
The week before, JSU even trailed at halftime of an Ohio Valley Conference matchup for the first time in nearly four years when Eastern Illinois led the Gamecocks 14-9 at the break.
According to Coach John Grass, this is due to a combination of several factors.
“When you say we get off to a slow start, that has to do with the other team some too,” Grass said. “We put ourselves in the hole some, but they made some plays”
Those plays range from key turnovers, like the Roc Thomas fumble early in the game against EIU, to sacks, which SEMO tallied eight of on Saturday, including one that derailed the Gamecocks’ first drive.
The sluggish start on Homecoming Saturday led to a defensive battle, which Grass says is fitting given the Gamecocks’ uniforms that day.
“You’re paying tribute to the 1992 team and wearing throwback uniforms – why not win one in Coach Bill Burgess style?”
The JSU offense eventually found their stride enough in both games – 24 unanswered points against EIU and 16 against SEMO – to pick up wins in both.
The offense had a margin for error in these games largely thanks to the dominant Jacksonville State defense.
After allowing 14 first-half points against EIU, the defense locked down. Each second half possession for the Panthers ended either in a punt or turnover.
The defense stepped up in a big way again against SEMO.
A Darius Jackson sack on the Redhawks’ first possession forced SEMO into a much more difficult field goal attempt, which was no good.
After giving up a long touchdown pass for SEMO’s only points, the defense shut down the remaining Redhawk drives, including forcing two field goal attempts with SEMO in scoring position.
The Gamecocks blocked both. Marlon Bridges got the first and Randy Robinson the second, an attempt that would have cut the margin to 13-10 with just 8:04 remaining.
The dominant defense is fueling the JSU march to what looks like yet another OVC title, but the Gamecocks will need to be firing on all cylinders by the time the playoffs roll around to avoid another early exit.