Jacksonville State is getting ready to play its final game of the season at No. 7 Florida, winning season securely in hand, and the rush to compile quality intelligence is growing.
Gamecocks coach Jack Crowe has two “close professional associates” he could tap who just happen to have had a reasonable amount of success against the Gators the past couple weeks – Georgia offensive coordinator Mike Bobo and UL-Lafayette defensive coordinator Greg Stewart.
Bobo, a former JSU quarterbacks coach under Crowe, ran a Georgia offense that solved the Gators’ stingy defense in a 17-9 “Cocktail Party” win three weeks ago. Stewart, a former longtime JSU assistant, directed a UL-Lafayette defense that held Florida’s offense in check Saturday in a game the Gators needed a last-second special teams miracle to win.
Crowe hadn’t talked to either of his former lieutenants as of lunch time Sunday, but that didn’t mean it wasn’t part of the plan.
“We’re going to talk to anybody we know to get every piece of information we can get on who we’re going to play,” he said. “That’s the only thing I think professionally to say.
“But I don’t think information is as much the issue as talent. We’re trying to make sure we somehow try to neutralize the talent there. Talent is the biggest part of this, not some secret play or secret defense.”
The Star reached out to Stewart Sunday, but he was in staff meetings until late evening.
Finding intimate knowledge is even more important in games like these that have no history. The Gamecocks (6-4) have played Chattanooga and Murray State before, but revenue-generating games like Arkansas and Florida are a clean slate. (If you think this slate is clean, wait until 2014 when they go to Michigan State). All the intel upon which the Gamecocks have to build a game plan are exchanged tape and statistics. The stats, at least, are very good, especially defensively.
The Gators (9-1) rank fifth in the Football Bowl Subdivision in total defense, third in scoring defense, first in pass efficiency defense and 11th against the run. They held Kentucky (0), LSU (6), Missouri (7) and South Carolina (11) all to fewer than 12 points. They haven’t given up more than 20 in any game.
Offensively, Florida ranks 104th in total offense, 77th in scoring.
“We’re facing about what we were in the opener (Arkansas), except the animal is on the other side of the ball,” Crowe said. “The animal was on offense with Arkansas – they had all the weapons and were pretty freakin’ good – but the animal is on defense here. They are truly dominant.
“Offensively they play well enough to win with a great defense. That’s how they’re designed. That’s what they do.
"I’m particularly challenged by this. This is a big stage for our program and I think how we play has more of a reach and I want to make sure we do everything we can as coaches.”
Crowe said he wouldn’t call just anyone for the kind of insight he might seek on the Gators; certainly no one he didn’t have “personal background” with. By the same token, the JSU assistants have their sources as well, and the head coach would encourage that pursuit.
Some of those coaches were in JSU field house in some capacity when Bobo and Stewart were still in the program.
“It’s better for the defensive coaches and offensive coaches to get it first-hand than me get it first-hand and get it from me,” he said. “I would hope the people I have a previous relationship with would give us the time to return a phone call and be forthright enough to give us quality information.”
Speaking of Gamecock connections, Florida head coach Will Muschamp was a JSU graduate assistant for a short time under former Gamecocks coach Mike Williams. He left for a paying gig at West Georgia.
He probably won’t be getting a call from the Gamecocks this week.
Sports Writer Al Muskewitz: 256-235-3577. On Twitter @almusky_star.