Sure, Hornets coach Reggie Barlow might like to have a name, but it’s not going to have any bearing on how his team prepares for the Gamecocks’ this week.
“Not really,” he said on the SWAC coaches teleconference Monday. “Obviously, they have three guys listed. I know they have a transfer coming from Minnesota. I think one or two of the kids are probably a little more athletic as far as running around than the transfer kid, but for us, honestly, it’s going to be our scheme against what they’re doing.
“It’s hard preparing for someone when you have no clue what they’re going to be doing. ... We’ll be figuring it out on the run, but who they play at quarterback, it really doesn’t matter. We’ve tried to simulate a combination of all three. We don’t want to spend a whole bunch of time focusing on this one guy, so we’ve just been trying to simulate what we thnk they might do from a running game and passing game standpoint.”
That’s probably the most prudent approach since JSU coach Bill Clark is going into his first game as a Division I head coach with his quarterback cards close to his chest.
All that’s truly known at this point is it’s going to be either Max Shortell, Eli Jenkins or Kyle West. All three have distinguished themselves in preseason practice, but only two are expected to play — unless there’s an injury.
Clark said at his news conference Monday he feels “pretty secure” who the choice will be, but it’s for him and the choice to know and everybody else to find out — and maybe not until the first snap Saturday night.
“We came into Saturday’s scrimmage with at least two of them really performing well, which is kind of where we wanted to be,” Clark said. “We wanted to feel good that we’ve got two guys, and I’ve said all along we feel like the second guy is going to get at least one series in the first half and we’re just going to kind of play it out and see how it works.”
All three, it’s been said, have shown signs in camp that could justify them being the starter.
Shortell has game experience. He played 15 games in two seasons at Minnesota, starting eight of them. None of the other JSU quarterbacks has played in a real game for the Gamecocks.
Given it is the first game of the season where there are all kinds of unknowns at play, Clark conceded experience “could be a big factor” in pulling the trigger Shortell’s way.
“He’s got that check nobody else can have, so that adds to his favor,” Clark said. “I’m not saying that’s going to be the only factor, but that does help him.”
Jenkins has shown great athleticism, which comes in handy when running the option. He starred in the spring game, thowing for 194 yards and a touchdown, but has not done it against someone not wearing “JSU” on his helmet.
“He was a guy who was really untested because he was on the defensive side of the ball and young, then all of a sudden you watch him in the spring game and he’s the guy who probably grew the most and he’s continued to progress,” Clark said. “It’s not just athleticism with him; he’s got a great arm and a chance to be a really good quarterback.”
Some who know both say Jenkins might not be far from the next Ryan Perrilloux, a former JSU quarterback. He already has shown the versaility of another Gamecock from Parker — Taurean Rhetta.
West, meanwhile, “kind of came out of nowhere” to become the projected starter coming out of the spring. He has demonstrated a poise in game management that plays well in a two-minute situation.
“They all three have things that we like, and there’s not huge differences in any of them,” Clark said. “It’s a little bit of a problem but it’s kind of a good problem.”
You can’t ask the quarterbacks what they think. Team officials are not making any of the quarterbacks or coordinators available for interviews this week, which leaves reporters to devise all kinds of clever ways to evoke the slightest of hints. And that’s entertainment for some.
“I think it’s kind of cool how you all can ask those questions and everything to try to get the answers,” Gamecocks center Max Holcombe said. “I’ve kind of come to expect it now.”
Don’t assume the quarterback who gets the call Saturday will be the starter the following week in the home opener against Jacksonville either.
“We’ve built it that you didn’t have a good day today, we’re going with the next gun,” Clark said. “There’s no one guy comes in and you see the O-line drop their head — it’s just the next guy in.”
The game marks a reversal of fortunes of sorts. When the teams met in the 2007 season opener, it was Barlow’s first game as a Division I head coach and at his alma mater. The Hornets won 24-19, scoring 12 points in the fourth quarter and the winning touchdown with 3:00 to play. The Gamecocks’ only touchdown came on an interception return.
“I thought about that,” Barlow said. “We just hope it doesn’t play out in reverse.”
The run-up to that game was marked by the Hornets accusing JSU of planting a spy to take notes on their practices. The tension brought a cancelation of the return game of the contract and landed the Gamecocks a secondary NCAA violation.
When Barlow was asked about his recollection of the incident, the teleconference moderator interrupted and abruptly moved to the next coach’s segment.
Al Muskewitz covers Jacksonville State sports for The Star. He can be reached at 256-235-3577.