That might be particularly true this week when the fourth-ranked, conference-favorite Gamecocks (3-0) open their Ohio Valley Conference season at Eastern Illinois.
The Panthers (0-3) have traditionally given the Gamecocks fits, but in this week’s NCAA statistics their new Pistol offense is ranked 100th or worse out of 117 FCS in all five major offensive categories. They are 115th in total offense, which Crowe ties to an offense that hasn’t found its identity yet.
What the Panthers may have looked like in the three games JSU will see in film study could cut against the grain of what they’ve been like for the Gamecocks to play. EIU has traditionally been their toughest draw, the only OVC team they don’t have a winning series record against.
“If we think we can calculate what we’re fixin’ to see by somebody’s film or stats, then we’re set up again,” Crowe said Monday. “I had a sense in that locker room after (Saturday) that game was a true moment of realization — maybe as big a one in this program in 10 years.”
JSU’s victory over Georgia State didn’t go any way the masses expected.
The Gamecocks were nationally ranked and found ways to win their first two games after falling far behind early. Georgia State was playing the third game in its football history and its first ever Division I opponent.
It was projected to be a mismatch, but was nothing close to it. The game was tied with less than 14 minutes to play and again in the final four minutes. The Gamecocks needed an official’s overrule to keep the game from going to a second overtime.
Although Crowe said he “didn’t think we were very smart about the way we approached the game,” all the Gamecocks had to go on he said was what they saw on film.
Then in the game, he said, the Gamecocks did not see “a single snap” between their offense and the Panthers’ defense that was reflected on the tape. It created uncertainty that led to mistakes.
He suspected GSU defensive coordinator John Thompson, who he called “a sly fox,” had been planning for the Gamecocks since the spring.
Quarterback Marques Ivory doesn’t need convincing that things won’t always be as they appear on film. He’s seen it two weeks in a row. It happened last year, too, as late the last two games of the year.
He knew it was going to be different Saturday when he saw something “funky” the first time he approached the line of scrimmage. Cornerback A.J. Davis realized it when the Panthers ran a reverse the Gamecocks hadn’t seen on film.
Not trusting the lessons of film study is difficult to do, especially when much of what the players are players are taught during the week come from what they see on film.
“Film study does help a lot and I definitely trust film study,” Davis said, “but everything a team does isn’t anything we haven’t seen from another team. We just have to adapt to it.”
Ivory and Davis both suspect the Gamecocks will continue to get mixed messages from their opponents, “especially,” Ivory said, “if we continue to win.”
The Gamecocks are currently on a seven-game winning streak (their longest since 1992) and have the longest active road winning streak in the FCS (also seven games). They are 3-0 for the first time since 2004, the last time they won the OVC.
“Everybody’s going to come after us because they want to be the people who bring us down,” Ivory said. “Chattanooga was a lesson about people coming at us harder than they did against other people and we were pretty prepared for the more physical part against Georgia State, but it was difficult with the different look they gave us.
“Because of the way our defense plays us, now we’ve gotten pretty much every situation in the book thrown at us — I think. We should know what to expect. We should go into the situation expecting anything, basically.”
Eastern Illinois is 0-3 for the first time since 1999. The Panthers haven’t started a season 0-4 since 1977, when they lost their first 10 in a row in a 14-game losing streak. They have lost five in a row since last season. At No. 4 in the polls, JSU will be the highest ranked regular season opponent the Panthers will have faced since 2006, when they lost at No. 6 Illinois State 44-30.
Al Muskewitz covers Jacksonville State sports for The Star. He can be reached at 256-235-3577.