Clark hadn’t seen a game in Jacksonville State’s stadium probably since his days as an undergrad, but the offense he turned loose on Jacksonville University in his home debut as coach Saturday night looked a lot like the Bill Burgess JSU offenses of his youth.
The Gamecocks unleashed a relentless ground attack on the Dolphins in swamping their Pioneer Football League visitors 48-13.
They rolled up a school-record 523 yards of rushing on 70 attempts, making FCS history by producing four 100-yard rushers in a game for the first time. They beat their old single-game rushing record -- set against Samford in 2004 -- by 70 yards. They had 568 yards in total offense.
“People say who are you and really what we want to do is what is there -- what are they giving you,” Clark said. “I never saw them stop the run.
“I went over to (offensive coordinator John) Grass and said, ‘Run the ball until they stop.’ It’s really that simple. A coach does so much work and gets this play sheet ready, yet if they can’t stop this play or that … we’re going to continue to run it until they do and I think those numbers played out.”
Last week, Arkansas State became the seventh FBS team in history to have four 100-yard rushers in the same game, when they rushed for 509 yards against Arkansas-Pine Bluff. There is no record of it happening on the FCS level.
Just about everybody who could possibly run the ball for the Gamecocks (2-0) got into the act.
Anniston’s Troymaine (Buster) Pope busted loose for 160 yards and three touchdowns on 16 carries. Backfield mate Damarcus James had 105 yards on 12 carries. No. 3 back Miles Jones wasn’t left behind, getting 138 yards on 20 carries – all in the second half. Even quarterback Eli Jenkins got in the act with 128 yards on 15 carries.
“I thought we had a pretty good day,” Jenkins said. “The coaches talked about finishing runs, so in practice even when we got touched we ran to the end zone to finish runs. I think that helped out in the game. We saw what we were doing was working, so we kept with it.”
Pope rushed for 240 yards and one touchdown all of last season. He nearly had that in Saturday’s game and scored on runs of 5, 3 and 4 yards. They were the most rushing touchdowns in a game by a JSU back since Washaun Ealey went for three last October against Murray State.
James enjoyed his sixth career 100-yard game. He scored on a 2-yard run to cap the scoring in a 21-point JSU second quarter.
Jones came into the season with nine career carries and 37 career yards. He had 36 yards in the third quarter and more than 100 in the fourth.
Jenkins scored his first career touchdown on a 9-yard run 24-point third quarter.
All four praised the offensive line for their production.
“They told us before the game we were going to have 500 yards tonight believe it or not,” Pope said. “We came out here and did. We believed them and then it happened.”
The Gamecocks nearly had three 100-yard rushes in the first half alone. Pope, James and Jenkins all went for at least 90 in the half. Who cared that both passers had negative quarterback ratings in the half or they accounted for as many completions to JU defense as their own receivers when you can run it like that?
It all goes back to the beginning of the week. Clark said he was going to spend more time overlooking the offense to provide a “true total sense of urgency.” The players said they noticed his presence, but for his part, Clark said he basically “stayed at the 50 and hollered at everybody this week.”
Even the offensive assistants got into the act, holding what Clark called “an interesting meeting” with the offense on Monday.
Then the players got involved. The offensive lineman told the backs they were going to rush for 500 yards this week – and they did it.
“We came out and as a whole offensive unit we got it in our heads we were going to run the ball,” center Max Holcombe said. “We were determined to do it and our work all week showed tonight.
“We rushed for, what, 523 on the ground, a school record. That’s crazy … We wanted to show as an offensive line we’re a better offensive unit than we showed the previous week. We only averaged 2.2 yards a carry last week. Our goal is like over 5 as a unit. Our goal for the offensive line this week was 300 yards and we blew that out of the water. We just got hyped in the locker room and said 500.”
This week it was Jenkins’ turn to shine at quarterback.
A week ago, he started and wasn’t all that effective. He played in JSU’s first five possessions and managed only 62 yards of offense.
Max Shortell relieved him in the second quarter, directed the Gamecocks to 24 third quarter points and played the rest of the game, earning the start Saturday. He had a 155-point quarterback rating in the game and was OVC Newcomer of the Week.
But this time struggled with the start. The Gamecocks offense was ineffective in his three opening possessions, going three-and-out twice and getting intercepted just when it looked like the offense was about to get cranking.
Jenkins came in and directed the Gamecocks to three second-quarter touchdown drives, turning an early 7-0 deficit into a 21-10 halftime lead. It was JSU’s first halftime lead since last year’s Southeast Missouri game, Sept. 29.
The assault continued in the third quarter with Pope breaking off a 55-yard run on the first play from scrimmage. The Gamecocks settled for a 26-yard field goal from Griffin Thomas, but within the next five minutes they extended the lead to 38-10 on a 70-yard interception return for a touchdown by Pierre Warren and a 9-yard scoring run by Jenkins.
Five minutes later Pope had his third touchdown and JSU had a 45-10 lead.
Al Muskewitz covers Jacksonville State sports for The Star. He can be reached at 256-235-3577.