By Matthew Martin/Sports Correspondent
The Jacksonville State football team began this season looking for an identity on offense.
After playing six quarters, it appears the Gamecocks might have found it.
JSU set a NCAA FCS record with four individual players rushing for more than 100 yards in a game, as the Gamecocks hammered Jacksonville University, 48-13, in the team’s home opener on Sept. 7.
“When the running game got going, we really didn’t look back,” JSU head coach Bill Clark said. “Offensively and defensively, we want to continue to play hard. We play a lot of folks and I think that will pay off for us. I saw our guys play awfully hard tonight.”
After somewhat struggling to move the ball in the season opening 24-22 win at Alabama State, and one quarter against Jacksonville, JSU head coach Bill Clark liked what he saw out of the Gamecocks’ rushing game. He told offensive coordinator John Grass to keep running the ball.
Fortunately for the Gamecocks, the Dolphins did not have an answer for the punishing ground game.
“As a whole offensive unit, we sat down and we got it into our heads that we were going to run the ball,” said JSU junior center Max Holcombe. “We practiced hard all week. We were determined to run the ball. Our work all week showed tonight, rushing for 523 yards – a school record. I love everybody that’s in the backfield. They’re my boys and I am fully confident in everyone that’s back there.”
JSU finished the game with 523 yards on 70 carries for a 7.5 yard-per-carry average. That shattered the previous school record of 453 yards set against Samford in 2004.
“We wanted to show as an offensive line that we are a better unit than what we showed last week,” Holcombe said. “We only averaged 2.2 yards per carry last week. Our goal is over five yards (per carry). Our goal for the offensive line this week was 300 yards and we blew that out of the water, so we said 500 (yards).
“As a unit, we were flipping out in the locker room. You don’t do that in college football. It’s a great feeling that my name is associated with a record at JSU.”
Troymaine Pope led JSU with 160 yards and three touchdowns on 16 carries, but there was no drop-off when he needed a breather, as Gamecock backs continued to churn out the yards.
Miles Jones had 138 yards, quarterback Eli Jenkins rushed for 128 and DeMarcus James had 105. Jenkins and James also scored one touchdown each.
“It felt good,” Jenkins said. “We just went out and executed. The offensive line opened the holes and (we) just ran. We saw what was working and we just pounded it.”
The offensive line kept gashing the Dolphins, allowing the backs to run straight ahead without much dancing around in the backfield.
And with each carry, Clark liked what he saw.
After Grass called a pass play, Clark went to his offensive coordinator and instructed him to continue to call running plays until Jacksonville was able to consistently stop JSU runners. The Gamecocks only threw 15 passes all night.
Meanwhile, the JSU defensive line kept JU running backs in check, forcing the Dolphins into a one-dimensional offense.
JU starting quarterback Kade Bell, son of Dolphin head coach Kerwin Bell, completed 24-of-48 passes for 242 yards and a touchdown. But he was sacked three times and threw an interception that JSU’s Pierre Warren returned 70 yards for a touchdown.
“When I saw the ball come my way, I knew I wasn’t going to be tackled,” Warren said. “My defensive players had a nice little convoy set up for me. That was an easy six.”
Early on, the Gamecocks could not seem to slow down Bell and the Dolphin offense, as JU took a 7-0 lead on a 1-yard Bell-to-Dorian Guy touchdown pass.
But the JSU running game took over early in the second quarter, as Pope scored back-to-back touchdowns – on a 5-yard run and a 3-yard run – to take a 14-7 lead with 8:06 left in the opening half.
Following a JU field goal, James got in on the scoring on a 2-yard touchdown run with 2:08 left in the second quarter.
The Gamecocks led 21-10 at the half.
JSU got a 36-yard field goal from Griffin Thomas on its first possession of the second half to extend its lead, followed one minute later by Warren’s interception return to increase the lead to 31-10.
A 9-yard touchdown run by Jenkins and a 4-yard touchdown run by Pope made the score 45-10 heading into the fourth quarter.
A field goal by each team concluded the scoring in the final quarter – a 38-yard kick by JU’s Dylan Lynch and a 45-yard kick by Thomas.
The Gamecocks struggled through the air, with starter Max Shortell completing 4-of-8 passes for just 26 yards. He also threw an interception.
Jenkins entered the game for Shortell in the second quarter to help JSU start running the ball, but he, too, struggled to get anything going through the air. Jenkins went 2-for-6 for just 12 yards and he also threw an interception.
Kyle West got some action in the fourth quarter for the Gamecocks, completing his only pass for seven yards.
“What we want to do is take what are they giving you,” Clark said. “I don’t know if we will come out and throw the ball well like last week. I think we have two different quarterbacks that are good in different ways.
“When asked about a quarterback controversy, I said I don’t think about it at all. Max is a little more of a pro-style quarterback and Eli is more of a play-action, zone-read guy.”
JSU returns to action Saturday when the Gamecocks host former Gulf South Conference rival North Alabama. Kickoff is set for 7 p.m.