There is, however, the chance for some new pieces to be in place as Crowe disclosed Monday a number of changes on the defensive depth chart in an attempt to “define our physicalness.”
The Gamecocks (1-2) head into their OVC home opener against Southeast Missouri off a 51-21 loss at Eastern Kentucky in which they were soundly whipped on the line of scrimmage. It doesn’t promise to be any easier against the Redhawks (2-2), who average 288 across their front and have two 300-pound backups.
As a result, all three down linemen positions and the bandit/outside linebacker are bracketed with three players this week. In addition, fast-tracked true freshman Jermaine Hough is slated to make his first college start at cornerback.
“For us, the challenge is to get our edge back,” Crowe said. “We’re going to take an approach at practice on the defensive line that we’re going to have some people competing for their playing time.
“I think we have some young people who can rise up and do this, but there’s got to be a mindset to this. We’ve got to grow into a more physical mindset when we step up and play.”
The projected starters are end DiMetrio Tyson, nose Caleb Lawrence, tackle Barry Stafford and James Powell or Mikel Whittier at outside linebacker, but only Tyson — the lone senior in the unit and one of two senior starters on defense — appears to be safe.
Freshmen Jordan Jackson and Erick Butler are working behind Tyson. Freshman Adam Wright and sophomore Terrence Pendleton are listed behind Lawrence. Sophomore Sean Watson and freshman Martez House are behind Stafford, and sophomore Dustin Gayton is behind Powell/Whittier.
Those seven backups have played 16 combined games — fewer than Tyson has started in his career. House played for the first time last week. Pendleton hasn’t played at all.
“I know (the coaches) are going to find the people who seem to have the most fight in them,” Tyson said. “With that group of people it’s going to be hard to tell; it’s going to be a hard competition. It may just come down to a just-before-game-time decision as to who are going to be the final starters.
“Whoever they decide to put out there, I have no problem with it, because I’ll line up with anybody in that group and … would play with that same front against everybody. It’s really going to come down to how badly do they want to play, how bad do they want to fight? I’m going to treat every rep in every practice like a goal-line play because that’s how physical this game is going to be.”
The Gamecocks have to do something to change their luck. They rank 106th or worse in the FCS in all five major defensive categories. They are 121st — dead last — in pass efficiency defense, 117th in total defense (514.7 ypg) and 109th — last in the OVC — against the run (244.0), the area in which they typically hang their hat.
They are one of four teams – joining Valparaiso, Savannah State and Prairie View — ranked 100th or worst in all five categories. Two others — Weber State and Morgan State — are ranked 100th or worse in four categories and 99th in the other.
If one were to assign a point value to each category ranking to formulate a score, JSU would have the fourth worst overall defense in the FCS at this point in the season (564 points). They would be ahead of only Morgan State (568), Valpo (578) and Savannah State (581).
The OVC has teams ranked 101 (Austin Peay), 107 (SEMO), 115 (Murray State), 117 (JSU) and 118 (Eastern Illinois) in total defense – and it has just started play within the league that is overflowing with prolific quarterbacks this season. Three rank among the nation’s top seven in passing yards this week.
Arkansas and EKU both gained more than 550 yards against the Gamecocks. The Razorbacks threw for 400; EKU rushed for 327. The Gamecocks have given up nine touchdown passes and are one of only five FCS teams yet to have an interception. Seven of their opponents’ 16 offensive touchdown plays have been longer than 15 yards.
“I know we’re not where we want to be defensively; if you’re below where you want to be how far really doesn’t matter,” Crowe said. “Those numbers are saying something significant, don’t get me wrong, but I think they all can be affected in the short term.
“I think we’ve played as tough an opening three games as maybe anybody anywhere. I think it is somewhat a reflection (of that), but I don’t think that’s the reason for it. We have to make some adjustments. We don’t have to live with those results. We’re not living with those results.”
Sports Writer Al Muskewitz: 256-235-3577. On Twitter @JSUSports_Star.