But that’s exactly what Jacksonville State faces Saturday looking to stay in the OVC chase in its conference home opener.
Southeast Missouri leads all of Division I football — FCS and FBS — with 16 takeaways. The bulk of those are 10 interceptions that share the Division I national lead with FCS Lafayette.
“That’s what great football teams do,” JSU coach Jack Crowe said. “Takeaways happen when you’re very alert, so that tells me they are a very savvy, alert defensive football team.
“If they happen once, you’d say somebody gave it to them, but that consistency means they’re doing something to make it happen. They’re doing it by just being sound, not by some unique skill set or system. They’re just being sound and taking advantage of other people’s mistakes.”
The Gamecocks (1-2, 0-1 OVC) made enough of those last week.
They had a season-high four turnovers at Eastern Kentucky. The Colonels intercepted Marques Ivory and Coty Blanchard three times. Cornerback Cejay Ceniza got Ivory twice, returning the second one 84 yards for a fourth-quarter touchdown; he also recovered a Washaun Ealey fumble.
“I just have to be on my game and have the ball in the right spot pretty much,” Ivory said. “No need to try and force anything, to do anything else; just make sure I’m being consistent in doing what I’m asked to do and everything should go in order after that.”
Being in the right spot is what has made the Redhawks (2-2, 1-0) so effective.
Their 16 takeaways already have surpassed their total of a year ago. They have at least two in six consecutive games going back to last year’s meeting with the Gamecocks, but SEMO coach Tony Samuel seems the least impressed of anyone by the success.
“Sometimes you get lucky and some of the things you work on come out,” he said. “We’re getting them, I’ll take them.”
The Redhawks had 20 picks and 29 takeaways in 2010 (12 games), the last time they won the OVC. That year they were fourth in the FCS in interceptions and fifth in turnover margin, but to Samuel that’s ancient history.
“I’m happy I don’t have that good a memory; I try not to go back that far,” he said. “We can’t try to start these comparisons with this kind of conference where every game is so heated. We know every game is going to be tough. If you ask that question again at the end of the season I might be able to answer it better.”
Strong safety Tyler Brock leads the Redhawks’ pick patrol with three. Free safety Branden Spann and WIL linebacker Darrick Borum have two each.
The Redhawks returned two of their three picks against Tennessee Tech last week for touchdowns — on back-to-back possessions in the first half. The most electrifying was Spann’s 100-yard return. He is one of 39 players in FCS history to return a pick 100 yards for a score.
Tech coach Watson Brown called that interception “a killer, an absolute killer,” because it sucked the life out of a 16-play drive and took SEMO from a potential 10-point deficit to a four-point lead in a game that eventually needed two overtimes to decide.
“We just try to make sure we’re around the football, and we emphasize it,” Samuel said. “We still have a lot of work to do. We’re still not taking good angles all the time. The key is making sure we’re breaking on balls and getting in position. That’s all playing good defense is all about.”
Sports Writer Al Muskewitz: 256-235-3577. On Twitter @JSUSports_Star.