Romeo Crennel’s classic “They are who we thought they were” bit comes to mind while assessing Tech’s 42-13 loss to Football Conference Subdivision’s No. 1 ranked Jacksonville State at Tucker Stadium last Saturday.
The Gamecocks (5-1, 3-0 OVC) were a team whose only loss so far this season came at the hands of then FBS No. 6 ranked Auburn, who went the distance and had to beat JSU in overtime. And the Golden Eagles? Well, after last year’s come-from-behind win over No. 12 Eastern Kentucky in the third annual “Blackout Game,” it’s safe to say this year’s edition wasn’t as lucky.
Here’s my rundown of Saturday’s loss:
Redshirt freshman running back Dorian Carter’s performance was one of the few that stood out on Saturday. While granted it was late in the contest with the game out of reach, Carter picked up some impressive gains on runs of 10, 24, 11 and 13 yards, leading the team with 72 yards and a touchdown on 12 carries. After the loss, head coach Watson Brown said Carter is a player he might opt to give the ball to sooner in games, and after Carter’s production Saturday, I don’t see why not.
Defensively, linebacker Jay Rudwall continues to be a force. The senior finished with a game-high 15 tackles (3 solo) against the Gamecocks, which puts him at 66 (18) this year. Beside Rudwall was another standout showing from opposite linebacker Tra’Darius Goff, who recorded 14 tackles (2 solo) on Saturday, bringing his season total to 102 (35), which is far ahead of the pack on the OVC’s tackle stat column so far this year.
It’s difficult to play spin doctor after a loss like Saturday night’s, but things could have been worse. A lot worse, actually. The Golden Eagles have lost three straight to three of the four best teams in the OVC, and they get the third best this Saturday at Eastern Illinois. They’ll soon be out of the “meat” of their schedule with some more favorable opponents. Plus, they have a bye week to look forward to in a few weeks and the possible return of quarterback Jared Davis, who broke his hand during a win at Murray State on Sept. 26. Things should get better, and Saturday’s loss could be the last home loss of the season, certainly the last blowout loss.
The same thorns have crippled the Golden Eagles since Davis’ injury three weeks ago. Since then, Tech’s offense has been unable to put together successful drives, but especially in the first half over the last two weeks. On Saturday, the offense went 12 drives before scoring a touchdown. Twelve. A defense can only respond to so many stalled offensive drives. Settling for field goals and having Jonathan King punt the ball seven times — three from his own end zone — doesn’t give any team a chance to win on Saturdays.
Defensively, Tech has to find ways to avoid giving up big plays early in the game. Two weeks ago, EKU put up five first-half touchdowns. On Saturday, Tech gave up four TDs on five first-half JSU drives, responding with just two field goals. To its credit, the Golden Eagle defense has faced three of the best quarterbacks in the OVC in the last three weeks. JSU’s Eli Jenkins was good on Saturday; his numbers, and really the entire Gamecock offensive numbers, are proof. The Gamecocks put up 619 yards to Tech’s 326. Those aren’t exactly winning numbers.