Jacksonville State may have an early-season open date this week, but the players were back at practice on what normally is an Academic Monday, not exactly sure what the day would hold.
“I don’t even really know what we’re doing today, honestly,” quarterback Marques Ivory said. “I guess we'll find out in this meeting. I kind of wish we didn’t have a bye week this week because it’s still early.”
The Gamecocks (1-1) are coming off a dramatic 27-24 win over UT Chattanooga that kept them 24th in the Sports Network FCS Top 25. The next time they play, they'll face preseason OVC favorite Eastern Kentucky (1-1) in their conference opener.
That contest will have as much impact on their postseason hopes as last week's game.
The Gamecocks haven’t fared well in recent years coming out of an open date. Before beating Austin Peay last year, they had lost their last three after an in-season break.
“Our history’s definitely not good,” quarterback Coty Blanchard said.
And it isn't good against the Colonels, either.
EKU has won the last two years and five of the last seven since JSU took the first two games of the series after joining the OVC in 2003. The Colonels are the only team on JSU's schedule this year with a winning record over the Gamecocks in the Jack Crowe era.
Given all that backdrop, Crowe said "everything we do" these next two weeks will be about Eastern Kentucky, which is ranked 20th in the TSN poll and plays at Coastal Carolina this week. After "a little something" Monday, the Gamecocks will go hard today, Wednesday and Thursday, then take off Friday and Saturday.
"We've given away half of them," Crowe said. "We've been our own worst enemy in this game. We've had some absurdity against these guys ... but they still had to win them."
There may have been nothing more absurd than last year's debacle. The Gamecocks blew a 24-point lead in the final seven minutes and, on the heels of the previous week's loss to Tennessee Tech, their chance for the OVC's automatic bid. They wound up being the odd-man-out in a three-team scramble for the playoffs.
"We’re definitely thinking about that,” Blanchard said. “You never want to forget something like that. It just adds fuel to the fire."
"We have to make sure that doesn't happen again," added Ivory.
The game the year before was just as painful. The Gamecocks went to EKU after an open date with a chance to be the No. 1 team in the country and lost 49-37. They did get an at-large bid but wound up losing three of their last four games.
"It hadn’t been a good history for off weeks and EKU," Blanchard said. "We know they're a favorite team, just like we are. We've always been a favorite team, but we haven’t been able to come through and finish off the season like we wanted to. We want to win them all from here on out — including Florida — but EKU's next on the list so we've just got to focus on them.”
Sports Writer Al Muskewitz: 256-235-3577. On Twitter @JSUSports_Star.