Close to the goal line, JSU's James bruises defense, dents the scoreboard
by Al Muskewitz
amuskewitz@annistonstar.com
Sep 24, 2013 | 1799 views |  0 comments | 10 10 recommendations | email to a friend | print
DaMarcus James scored three short-yardage touchdowns against Georgia State on Saturday. (Photo by Stephen Gross/The Anniston Star)
DaMarcus James scored three short-yardage touchdowns against Georgia State on Saturday. (Photo by Stephen Gross/The Anniston Star)
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JACKSONVILLE -- There aren’t too many people who are going to get in the way of the Incredible Hulk when he’s got a 2-yard head of steam.

That’s the theory at least when Jacksonville State hands the ball to 220-pound bruiser DaMarcus James deep in the red zone.

The Gamecocks broke out the short-yardage weapon they’ve had in their package in earnest Saturday at Georgia State, running the direct snap to James three times inside the 2. All three went for touchdowns, including the game-winner in overtime.

“That’s just another weapon we kind of have we didn’t really get to use until this past week, and we’ve got other wrinkles that go with that whole little package,” JSU coach Bill Clark said. “DaMarcus is a great short-yardage back, so it really kind of fits his skill set.

“This is something I’ve done in the past and it’s always been a good set for us. It’s got a lot of wrinkles that each week we’ll probably expand on. I think you could do it at a bunch of different times. It all goes back to the guy who’s really running it and I think he runs it really well.”

All three of James’ touchdown runs against the Panthers gave the undefeated but unranked Gamecocks (4-0) a lead in the game.

The idea is simple. Get near the goal line, get the ball in James’ hands and let the junior do his thing.

When the Gamecocks tried to go outside in the red zone last week, it usually didn’t go well. They did score four touchdowns in seven trips to the red zone against the Panthers but had only six in 15 chances the previous three games.

“It’s one of those things defensively it’s hard to get a line to because there are just so many big bodies in there, and you’re not looking for a ton of yardage,” Clark said. “You’re just trying to keep people from penetrating and creating a negative play and (James is) one of those backs if you can keep them from penetrating he’s going to get 1, 2, 3 yards for you most of the time.”

All four of James' touchdown runs this year and five of the 10 in his JSU career have come from 2 yards or closer. Two more have come from inside the 5.

The success rate is equal parts play call and James' determination to score.

"They just call the play and it'd be me and wherever I see a hole is where I go," James said after practice Tuesday. "My main goal is to get in the end zone regardless where the ball is at. No matter where it is, how close it is, with the guys up there blocking so well we believe we're going to get it no matter what."

James ran the wildcat some his junior year at Demopolis High and was "pumped up about it" when Clark included it in the package this year. He ran it in practice, but Saturday was really the first time he turned it loose in a game.

It was in the red zone, but James is convinced "it can work anywhere on the field."

That’s what JSU's next opponent, Murray State, is contending with this week.

Racers coach Chris Hatcher has seen the film of Saturday's game and he’s “very concerned” about facing it.

The Racers (2-2) are last in the Ohio Valley Conference and 118th nationally in total defense, giving up an average of 555 yards a game, last against the run (264.5, 113th nationally) and have given up a league-high 13 red-zone rushing touchdowns. The Gamecocks lead the OVC in rushing.

“It’s a very tough formation and some tough guys to tackle. I’m very concerned about it,” Hatcher said. “The big thing stopping a really good running back is a lot of times he’s really good because he has a good offensive line. The big thing for us is we’ve got to get some penetration and make him run side to side, get him before he gets going downhill real good.

“You just can’t let him get going downhill on you, and if you do, you’re in for a world of hurt.”

Another aspect of the game not lost on Hatcher is JSU’s dominance in the series.

The Gamecocks have won the last nine in a row after losing the first game of the series in overtime their first year in the OVC (2003). If they win Saturday, it will become their fifth longest winning streak over one specific team and extend the longest of their Division I era. They had an eight-game streak over Samford when that series ended and they're working on a six-game streak over Austin Peay.

“I appreciate you bringing that up,” Hatcher said. “The three years I’ve been here we actually played them very well. They’ve all come down to the end of the game, all been within one score.

“When I was at Valdosta State as a player didn’t have a whole lot of success against them, either (0-2). I’m hoping my luck will change this week and I can squeak one out, but it’s going to be a very tough task.”

Al Muskewitz covers Jacksonville State sports for The Star. He can be reached at 256-235-3577.

JSU series win streaks

16 -- West Georgia (1946-1995)

13 -- West Alabama (1954-1966)

13 -- Troy State (1954-1966)

11 -- UT Martin (1968-1978)

9 -- Alabama A&M (1975-1983)

9 -- Alabama A&M (1987-1998)

9 -- Delta State (1969-1978)

9 -- West Alabama (1974-1982)

9 -- Murray State (2004-current)
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