Just because Jacksonville State’s newly installed second-ranked football team doesn’t play this weekend doesn’t mean the Gamecocks are kicking back and taking it easy.
They were back on the practice field Monday, laying the groundwork for each of the three teams they have left on the regular season schedule.
“We’re going to try to look at November and practice for all three teams, full pads,” Gamecocks coach Jack Crowe said. “We’re playing more new, first-year players than anybody in the league and there’s inconsistency in that. We’ve got to try to go back and get a handle on that.”
The Gamecocks will take a day for each of their three remaining opponents — Eastern Kentucky, Southeast Missouri and Tennessee Tech — with each side of the ball taking a different approach.
The defense, which hasn’t allowed a touchdown in the last eight quarters, will take each team in the order they fall on the schedule for developmental reasons. The offense will take them on in reverse order looking to build on the momentum of last week’s 56-3 win over Austin Peay.
The fourth day will be dedicated to some fundamental aspect, likely the kicking game.
No doubt, today’s SEMO day will be the most intense. The teams’ Nov. 13 meeting in Jacksonville is on track to decide the Ohio Valley Conference title and the league’s automatic playoff bid.
“I keep it in the back of my head, but I don’t look too far ahead,” junior quarterback Marques Ivory said of the matchup. “I’ve got to take it as it goes, what it is when it happens.”
Of course, the Gamecocks haven’t forgotten they play Eastern Kentucky before that. SEMO plays UT Martin this weekend and non-conference Southwest Baptist before meeting the Gamecocks.
It is a precarious time for the Gamecocks (8-0).
Last year, they came out of their open week and lost to Eastern Illinois. They are 11-4 in the week after an open date under Crowe, 8-2 since joining the OVC.
Running back Calvin Middleton said the open date “sets up perfect” for the team to do some introspection before jumping head on into the important final month of the season. The Gamecocks are 19-13 in November under Crowe, 16-6 since joining the OVC, with two of the losses coming in the NCAA playoffs.
“November football is a different kind of football,” Crowe said.
As a collegiate rookie, freshman quarterback Coty Blanchard doesn’t know quite what to expect from this open week, but he’s confident the team will be able to handle whatever comes its way.
“I hope we can stay focused and keep things rolling,” he said. “I think (the open date) is good for our bodies to get well rested and everything. When you’re on a winning streak like this, you don’t want to stop the momentum. You want to keep going forward. But we’ve got a lot of mature guys on this team. I think we’ll be able to handle it.”
The Gamecocks earned their highest Division I ranking ever Monday when they were installed as the nation’s No. 2 team in both major polls.
Crowe was concerned the Gamecocks might get jumped in the rankings by a Colonial Athletic Association team for the second time this season after 4/5 William & Mary beat No. 2 Delaware and No. 6 defending national champion Villanova beat No. 11 James Madison on Saturday.
JSU’s No. 2 is the highest ranking for an OVC team since Tennessee State was No. 1 in 1999. Southeast Missouri was ranked No. 11 in both polls.
“I think this is right,” Crowe said. “It’s where we ought to be.
“The real message (in the poll) may be a perceptual change (for the OVC). It’s as good for the OVC as it is for Jacksonville State. Whatever the reason, it has relevance other than this team this year.”
Al Muskewitz covers Jacksonville State sports for The Star. He can be reached at 256-235-3577.