The Gamecocks spent all of last week trying to exorcize the demons of that lopsided loss, but it was only after their 31-16 victory Saturday could they tell if they had been successful.
There is still some growing that needs to be done, but JSU coach Jack Crowe said his team took a step forward against the Redhawks.
“The thing I took away from last night was we grew up on the defensive line a little bit … and offensively we were efficient,” Crowe said Sunday. “Those are the two things we weren’t against Eastern Kentucky.
“I’d say we learned something. It wasn’t something we didn’t know before, but something we were reminded of that we’d better focus on and we did get focused on it and we got the results.
“That was one challenge. We accepted the task and went through the work and on that day we met the challenge. Every week it’s going to be a new challenge. Whether we step up and take on the task of that week, both as coaches and players, will be seen over the next seven Saturdays.”
The Gamecocks went from giving up 51 points to giving up only 16 – six in the second half. They went from not being able to develop a running game to rushing for 268 yards in a balanced attack. DaMarcus James ran for 149 yards and two touchdowns, and quarterback Marques Ivory enjoyed near perfect passing efficiency.
The challenges immediately going forward will be much different than the Gamecocks (2-2, 1-1 OVC) faced last week and conceivably daunting for a team that has struggled defending the pass.
SEMO was a power option team that lived on the run, so the 56 yards passing the Gamecocks held them on Saturday is somewhat misleading. Over the next two weeks, the Gamecocks will face two of the three most prolific passers not only in the OVC but the country.
It starts Saturday at Tennessee Tech, which has beaten the Gamecocks the last two years. Tech quarterback Tre Lamb ranks seventh nationally in passing yards this week, eighth in yards per game, seventh in passing efficiency, 16th in total offense and 25th in completions per game. His most dangerous weapon is Tennessee transfer Da’Rick Rogers.
As if the Golden Eagles (2-3, 0-2) weren’t troublesome enough, the Gamecocks go to Eastern Illinois the following week.
EIU’s Jimmy Garoppolo threw for 453 yards on Austin Peay Saturday, with five touchdown passes of 50 yards or longer. No need to clean your touchscreen - 453 yards is correct. He ranks second in the FCS in points responsibility, total offense and passing yards, while ranking third in passing yards per game and fifth in completions.
JSU is ranked 71st in pass defense, making a big jump after Saturday’s showing, and 119th in pass efficiency defense. The Gamecocks still don’t have an interception.
“I don’t think there’s much of a chance of us not recognizing this unique challenge,” Crowe said. “It’s not a continuation or extension of any of the previous games – any of them -- even if you go back to Tyler Wilson and Arkansas. It’s a different kind of passing game … and you can’t totally simulate it in practice.”
In the interest of balance, the Golden Eagles are wounded. They are fighting through a rash of injuries, have lost three in a row and are coming off a 70-35 beat down by Murray State. They’ve given up 174 points in the last three games.
Al Muskewitz covers Jacksonville State sports for The Star. He can be reached at 256-235-3577.
Sports Writer Al Muskewitz: 256-235-3577. On Twitter @JSUSports_Star.