Not just his current Jacksonville State team. Any of them, and he has coached with and against some of the strongest college teams in America on any level.
What No. 21 EKU did in beating the 24th-ranked Gamecocks 51-21 in Roy Kidd Stadium was impressive. The Colonels (3-1) racked up more than 550 yards of offense, rushed for 327 yards and crushed the Gamecocks (1-2) in the conference opener for both teams.
“It was just as thorough as it gets,” Crowe said. “They physically whipped us inside the tackles — with the thing that we practiced against.
“I think we probably tried to do too much. We got caught trying to solve our problems with schemes and made it worse. I think the first time they put two pads on somebody inside that line of scrimmage, it was little bit like man to boys.”
The Colonels’ two biggest threats did the most damage. Running back Matt Denham ran through the Gamecocks for 218 yards and two touchdowns. Quarterback T.J. Pryor threw for 231 yards and four first-half touchdowns.
The Gamecocks, meanwhile, managed only 112 yards net rushing and their most productive player of the night was kickoff returner Gabe Chambers (186 yards).
The 562 yards EKU gained was the second-most against the Gamecocks since Kansas gained 641 in 2003. Arkansas had 564 in this year’s season opener.
The loss snapped a four-game JSU winning streak in conference openers and extended its losing streak against ranked FCS opponents to three. The last time the Gamecocks lost their season opener — 2007 — they finished 6-5 overall and 5-3 in the OVC. The last time they were 1-2 was 2009, with the two losses coming to Georgia Tech and Florida State.
The Gamecocks were never really in this game. EKU, the OVC preseason favorite, scored the first two touchdowns of the game and never looked back. They led 34-8 at halftime.
The Colonels’ 26-point halftime lead was JSU’s largest halftime deficit in 10 seasons in the Ohio Valley Conference and was topped in the Crowe era only by the 27-point mountain they had to climb in the 2008 Georgia Tech game and the 28-point hole they faced in the 2003 I-AA playoff game at Western Kentucky.
“By far that’s the most physical we’ve been dealt with by anybody,” Crowe said. “I don’t think anybody’s rushed for that many yards against us — anywhere I’ve ever been. There was no consistency and there was no physicalness. We got quote-unquote physically whipped. That has not happened since I’ve been there — ever.”
It was the second year in a row the Colonels put 50 on the Gamecocks. In some ways the first half Saturday was as much as debacle as the end of the fourth quarter was in last year’s game when JSU blew a 24-point lead in the final seven and a half minutes.
Virtually nothing went right.
Pryor threw four touchdown passes — to four different receivers — while JSU had only three completions total. Pryor had more completions (12 — for 218 yards) than JSU had attempts (11). The Gamecocks also lost a fumble and had a field goal blocked.
By the end of the half, going back to the end of last year’s game, the Colonels had outscored JSU 62-8 over the last 36 minutes, 23 seconds played between the teams.
JSU starting quarterback Marques Ivory got off to a dreadful start. He missed his first seven attempts and didn’t get his first completion until midway through the third quarter. Top receiver Alan Bonner didn’t make his first catch until the final eight minutes of the game.
Coty Blanchard accounted for the Gamecocks’ first-half touchdown on an 8-yard pass to Denzel Cheeks.
Even though Ivory seemed to turn things around in the third quarter, tossing a 23-yard touchdown pass to Gavin Ellis, Cejay Ceniza picked him off on the first play of the fourth and returned it 84 yards for the Colonels’ final touchdown.
“I was just off — off bad, too,” Ivory said. “I’ll have to fix that.”
Pryor, meanwhile, was spot on. His touchdown tosses went to Denham (28 yards), Tyrone Goard (38), Cameron Bailey (18) and Jeremy James (3).
Meanwhile, Denham showed why he’s a Walter Payton Award candidate. The Colonels’ senior back scored both EKU touchdowns in the first quarter and had 131 yards rushing by halftime — more than JSU’s total offense. Then he capped off his night with a 73-yard scoring burst up the middle. It was the second year in a row he rushed for more than 200 yards on the Gamecocks.
“He’s a good player, but that was about as North and South football (as there is),” Crowe said. “Those two guards and that center, they blocked every bit of that, and he’s a tough guy. I don’t think he’s any tougher than Damarcus James, but this is about the line of scrimmage. This was about getting physically whipped between the tackles.”
And the Gamecocks didn’t put enough pressure on the Colonels with their own offense to keep them from doing it.
JSU had 36 yards in the first quarter and the best part of its offense was Chambers’ kickoff returns. He had a 37-yarder return on the opening kickoff, extended by a personal foul penalty, and a 73-yarder later. But the Gamecocks didn’t do anything with either.
The first possession was a three and out. After the big return, EKU partially blocked a 37-yard Griffin Thomas field goal attempt.