BATON ROUGE, La. — To prove timing is indeed everything, we can offer Jacksonville State’s loss to LSU Saturday night as Exhibit A.
The Gamecocks had the misery and misfortune to catch the 21st-ranked Tigers in prove-something, self-correcting, home-debuting, quarterback-changing mode. And its fan base in not a very good mood. JSU coach John Grass’ midweek analogy to sticking a hand in a hornet’s nest was not inaccurate.
So it was that LSU withstood a couple of ferocious body punches from Jax State early, then used impeccable timing when it came to clock management, an electrifying punt return and superior depth to register a 34-13 victory over the Gamecocks in front of announced crowd of 98,389.
The Gamecocks, No. 5 in the nation in the FCS, return to pick on somebody their own size next week, hosting Coastal Carolina at 1 p.m. at Burgess-Snow Stadium. The Chanticleers are 2-0 after a 49-10 over Florida A&M Saturday.
Tre’Davious White broke the Gamecocks’ hearts with a 60-yard punt return late in the second quarter, punctuating a 27-point period for LSU and effectively putting the game out of reach, 27-10 at intermission.
“Not the way we wanted the game to go,” said Grass, noting that his team “gave up too many explosive plays.”
The punt return was one. Ditto a 46-yard scoring pass from Danny Etling, who threw a TD pass and ran for another. Derrius Guice, subbing for injured All-American Leonard Fournette, had some big runs, working his way to a 155-yard, one-TD evening.
Jacksonville State quarterback Eli Jenkins had a terrific evening, rushing 18 times for 82 yards and completing 17 of 35 passes for 248 yards and a scoring pass to Krenwick Sanders.
The Gamecocks’ bugaboo in the season-opening win against North Alabama was penalties, and it proved fatal here. A false start prevented them from potentially running out the clock in the first half and a pass interference led to an LSU TD.
“We played pretty good,” said JSU safety Ra’Shad Green, a Louisiana native, “but the margin of error is so small … on this type of big stage.”
After lightning delayed kickoff 50 minutes, the Gamecocks scored first, on a 30-yard Cade Stinnett field goal, having had a couple of impressive possessions and twice holding LSU three-and-out twice. Then JSU had a massive “whew!” moment with a 105-yard kickoff return for TD was erased by penalty.
LSU quarterback Brandon Harris is pretty much, if this helps bring it home, the Tigers’ version of Auburn’s Jeremy Johnson. He has failed to live up to expectations and after a dismal start (1-for-4, one shoulda/coulda interception) Miles made the popular choice to bring in Etling for the third possession.
Feel that? It was a pulse in LSU’s wrist. Though a pass was immediately dropped — a problem last week for the Tigers — he nailed senior tight end DeSean Smith for a 46-yard touchdown pass. Thus began the scoring in a frenetic second period that was entertaining — but painfully frustrating for the Gamecocks.
Guice scored on a 4-yard TD after the Gamecocks’ Al Harris Jr., thrice penalized in the opener, was called for pass interference, but Jax State immediately answered with a 76-yard catch-and-run by Krenwick Sanders on a nifty toss from Jenkins, cutting the LSU lead to 13-10.
A 44-yard Guice draw — another of those fatal big plays — set up a two-yard touchdown run by Bry’Kiethon Mouton. Suddenly, a running game wasn’t nearly such castor oil for Tiger fans to swallow. It was 20-10 with 1:01 left in the half, and that seemed nice and cozy.
It got cozier. Les Miles may have forgotten to coach, in some fans’ minds, but he didn’t forget he had three timeouts remaining. He spent them all on the Gamecocks’ next possession, and got a little help from another shot-in-the-foot JSU false-start penalty.
Unable to run out the clock, Jax State punted and Tre’Davious White made a scintillating 60-yard return for a score and a 27-10 halftime margin.
“If we cut down mistakes, it could have been a different game,” Jenkins said.
Etling added a third-quarter TD for LSU and Stinnett another field goal by the Gamecocks in nondescript second half. The Gamecocks, who had 227 yards of offense and nine first-half first downs, were held to 141 yards in the final half.
“We can’t look at what-if,” Jenkins said. “It didn’t happen. And we came out on the lower half.”