Teams that want to be considered contenders expect to win their games at home. The separation will come by a team winning consistently on the road.
“Until you win on the road, you don’t establish an identity as a football team,” Eastern Illinois coach Dino Babers said Tuesday during the OVC coaches teleconference. “Good teams hold court. You want to know what kind of team you have? Take it on the road and find a way to win on the road. Until we win a road game, we’re not going to have an identity.”
That’s particularly poignant for Jacksonville State. The Gamecocks (2-2, 1-1 OVC) take their show on the road this week looking for their first win away from the friendly confines of Burgess-Snow Field. They lost their season opener at Arkansas and their OVC opener at preseason conference favorite Eastern Kentucky.
And it’s not an easy road for the Gamecocks. After Saturday’s game at Tennessee Tech (2-3, 0-2), they go to Eastern Illinois, which only has one of the most prolific offenses in the country this season, then play at UT Martin and Florida.
Home teams are 7-2 in OVC play so far this season.
“It takes a more composed team to play well on the road,” JSU coach Jack Crowe said. “Ultimately that composure gives you consistency for the season and ultimately probably decides who’s going to win this league and go to the playoffs.”
Tennessee Tech went 4-0 in OVC road games last year — including JSU and Eastern Kentucky — on the way to claiming the league’s automatic bid. The Golden Eagles are 0-2 on the road in the league this year and on the verge of early-season elimination from the race.
“You have to do well at home, but you’re going to have to win road games to win this league,” Tech coach Watson Brown said.
The Gamecocks have historically done well on the road, at least in the OVC. They are 39-35 overall on the road in Crowe’s 13 seasons as the head coach, but are 25-10 in OVC road games (30-8 at home). Half of those OVC road losses have come at EKU and Tech.
Crowe believes the secret to success on the road starts in one position. It’s the spot virtually every team in the league has proven experience, which makes winning on the road no walk in the park.
“The most impacted person on the road is the quarterback; he’s the game manager,” he said. “I know for us our quarterback has the composure to play on the road, even though he didn’t play very well when we played EKU. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a game like that from Marques (Ivory) and I don’t ever expect to see that again.”
The Gamecocks went 4-0 on the road in the OVC last year. Their problem was they couldn’t finish in their two biggest home games. They gave up 28 points in the last seven minutes of the EKU game and lost a fumble in the final 90 seconds against Tech while driving for a potential game-tying touchdown. The Gamecocks also lost a big fourth-quarter lead at Tech two years ago.
“We have been very inconsistent in games with (Tech),” Crowe said. “We’ve played very well in spots through both games, but I think having the ability to finish them has been lacking in both cases.
“Generally speaking, these are fourth-quarter football games. If you look at all the scores since we’ve been here ... you talk about getting to the fourth quarter and playing our best football down the stretch at the end. There have been some times we hadn’t done that, but I think it’s who we’ve been. We try to remind ourselves of it and make that one of the themes as we go about our business.”
Sports Writer Al Muskewitz: 256-235-3577. On Twitter @JSUSports_Star.