Thursday, December 6, 2007

Move to Div. 1A poll

The Gamecock Corner blog now has a poll running about JSU proposed move up the Bowl Division. It's over on the right side of the screen a few inches below Al's lovely mug.
Be sure to vote.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Off and running

The JSU men's basketball team got its home opener with Tennessee Temple off and running. They won the opening tip and Jeremy Bynum promptly hit a 3-pointer. Then they got a steal and layup. Moments later, Dorien Brown soared home with a flying dunk.

By the way, the Hardcorps pep band were in full sound. They're decked out in matching red shirts, while the Go-Gos were replete in an all-black ensemble.

On the football front, fifth-year senior Matt Hardin will start Saturday for the Gamecocks at Southeast Missouri.

Friday, November 9, 2007

The pay is good, if you can get it

What's a guarantee game against a Southeastern Conference team worth to a program like Jacksonville State?

Depending on whom you play, when you want to play them and how long you can hold out to get them, it means big bucks.

And if you get a win out of it, like Gardner-Webb did against Kentucky Wednesday night, it can be worth a lot more. OK, the GW-Kentucky thing was in a tournament situation, but you get the idea.

The Gamecocks picked up a check in the neighborhood of $65,000 for opening their season at Georgia Friday night. Not bad work for a three-hour bus ride.

If the Gamecocks hadn't finished their schedule so soon - way sooner than when it was announced - it probably could've gotten more than what it wrangled from the Bulldogs.

As it was, they wanted to play the first Friday night of the season, and Georgia had the date, so the game was made.

"Had we waited until August to knock it down, there were people offering 80-85 (thousand)," JSU coach Mike LaPlante said. "But once you get to that point in time, you're not going to be able to be selective on the dates."

The payday is comparable to the best the Gamecocks have ever gotten for basketball. It represents a shade over 10 percent of what the program spends.

And the ante has risen substantially since LaPlante scheduled Kentucky and Auburn at the start of his first season with JSU. The Gamecocks pulled down a little more than $40,000 for those; the Missouri Valley is paying more than that now.

"The market back then was 40," LaPlante said.

Now, the conversation doesn't even start until you're talking 50-55K.

"That's the least I would ever play (for)," LaPlante said. "I don't think I would even play now for less than 60 to one of these SEC schools, because that's what the market pays."

Selective memory?

According to the Georgia notes, Friday night's game was the first ever meeting between the Bulldogs and Gamecocks.

But JSU lists a victory -- one of only two against SEC competition -- in the third game of the 1959-60 season.

Georgia lists a 6-0 record over Ohio Valley Conference schools, but one of those victories -- an 85-68 win over Murray State in the 2002 NCAA Tournament -- was later vacated because of NCAA sanctions. The Dawgs also have beaten Eastern Kentucky, Samford, Tennessee State and Tennessee Tech (twice).

Debut delayed

Zack Winston's debut with the Gamecocks will be delayed until at least Monday. The 6-6 freshman forward from Mobile missed Friday's game because of a death in the family.

He played nine minutes in the exhibition victory over West Georgia, scoring three points -- all from the foul line -- and grabbing a rebound.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Ranked or rank

The Gamecocks will have to break with history if they want to keep alive their hopes for an FCS playoff bid.

They play Eastern Illinois Saturday at Paul Snow Stadium. Both teams are 6-3 overall, 5-1 in the Ohio Valley Conference. The Panthers are ranked No. 25 in The Sports Network poll, No. 22 in the FCS Coaches poll.

The Gamecocks haven’t fared well against ranked teams over the years. Since joining I-AA in 1995, they are 3-29 against ranked opponents. They’ve lost their last seven in a row and 11 of their last 12. They’re 3-14 against ranked opponents under coach Jack Crowe.

The Gamecocks’ last win over a ranked foe came in 2002, when they knocked off then-No. 3 Northwestern (La.) State, 19-10. Their other ranked wins came in 2001 (No. 21 Southwest Texas) and 2000 (No. 10 Northwestern State).

They have played at least one team ranked 1 through 11. They’ve played teams that were ranked No. 2 or No. 3 four times each, No. 4 or No. 22 three times each.

The Gamecocks have been ranked 30 times since moving up, but haven’t been in a major poll since pulling down a No. 25 in The Sports Network poll on Sept. 18, 2006. Their highest ranking was No. 12 in both polls Oct. 18, 2004.


It appears soccer coach Julie Davis is safe for another term.

Davis, whose program reportedly was rocked with an in-season assistant's resignation and player discontent, has come to the end of her initial three-year contract. While she hasn't had her year-end evaluation with athletic director Jim Fuller yet -- that's supposed to be next week -- no change seems forthcoming.

"I don’t anticipate any surprises from her and she doesn’t anticipate any from me," Fuller said. "It's not like we haven't talked (about this) before."

Sunday, November 4, 2007

Hall of Fame and other things

The JSU Athletic Hall of Fame induction ceremonies are Friday night, and three Hall members will be on hand to personally enshrine the new class.

The Class of 2005-06 class includes Tracy Linton, the Gamecocks' all-time leading rebounder in women's basketball; record-setting pitcher Craig Holman; former quarterback David Gulledge; and All-American defensive back Terry Harris.

Legendary JSU football coach Bill Burgess (Class of 2002-03) will introduce Gulledge, equally legendary baseball coach Rudy Abbott (Class of 2000-01) will introduce Holman; former women's basketball coach Dana Austin (Class of 2004-05) will introduce Linton; and former JSU letterman and assistant coach Ray Emanuel will introduce Harris.

Abbott will be doing double duty at the ceremonies. Besides introducing Holman, he also will be presenting the inaugural Jimmy Bryan Award for lifetime achievement to Glenn Hawkins and Dr. Sam Crawford. Hawkins is a longtime high school official and JSU clock operator. Crawford was a longtime team doctor.

Honored again

Junior return specialist Maurice Dupree was named OVC Special Teams Player of the Week for the second time this season after his performance Saturday against Samford.

Dupree finished with 201 all-purpose yards and one touchdown. He scored on a 24-yard reverse as the Gamecocks reverted to some razzle-dazzle to get their offense going and he returned five kicks for 164 yards.

His kickoff return in the fourth quarter was the play of the game. Although it didn't go for a touchdown, it did go for 86 yards to the Samford 8. Two plays later, Shawn Green scored the clinching touchdown.

Dupree was shaken up on the kickoff return and didn't return to the game.

Dupree ranks third nationally in kickoff returns (33.4 yards per return) and fourth in punt returns (13.9). The Gamecocks are second as a team in kickoff returns.

Yellow Hammered

Tennessee Tech has to be glad Samford is getting out of the OVC and Auburn isn’t a regular non-conference opponent.

Together with JSU, the three Alabama teams proved a brutal gauntlet to the Golden Eagles.
Tech played them in three consecutive weeks, taking three losses, giving up 132 total points and 1,445 combined yards.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

The Greatest SEC Game Ever

Cleaning out the notebook

It's been a while ...

You probably didn’t notice it, but former Jacksonville State golfer Jeff Corr finished in a tie for 10th at the Nationwide Tour’s Miccosukee Championship in Miami last weekend, the tour’s last full-field event of the season.

He shot rounds of 71, 65, 69 and 72, and finished eight shots behind the winner. By virtue of his finish, he’s exempt into next year’s Nationwide opener at the Chitimacha Louisiana Open in Broussard, La., in March.

Corr, who played two seasons for coach James Hobbs (1998-1999), has been playing on the Hooters Tour and was 65th on the money list this year -- eight spots behind another former JSU golfer (and Anniston Star intern) Nick Mackay.

He went right back to the Hooters Tour after his Nationwide success and finished third in this week’s three-day Winter Series event in Florida, one shot out of a playoff.

Corr played in nine events as a Gamecock, with a 74.63 stroke average. His best round with JSU was a 70 and his best finish was a tie for second.

Speaking of JSU golf, after a whirlwind summer that landed him a spot on the GB&I Walker Cup team, Danny Willett has remained overseas to test his game on the European amateur circuit.

That’s not to say he’s done with Jacksonville State. Willett told The Star in an interview before the Walker Cup matches that he liked the college experience and intended to finish his collegiate career with the Gamecocks. He said he'd like to pattern his development to that of PGA Tour star Luke Donald, who came from England to Northwestern, played college golf and went on to the Tour.

He could still return in January and, retaining his eligibility, play for the Gamecocks in the spring semester.

VOLLEYBALL: The OVC race is jumble, but if the Gamecocks can sweep their four remaining matches, they would host the conference tournament for the second year in a row.

Right now, two games separate the top five teams – Morehead (12-3), JSU (12-4), Murray (11-4), SE Missouri (11-5) and Tennessee State (11-6).

The Gamecocks play SEMO Friday and Eastern Illinois Saturday, then get Morehead and Eastern Kentucky next week. SEMO beat JSU in the first meeting of the season. Morehead and Murray still have to play each other.

In a three-way tie with Morehead, JSU and Murray, the Gamecocks would get the tiebreaker by virtue of having beaten Murray and Morehead twice.

The top two seeds draw a bye, but there’s just something about playing the tournament in the friendly confines of your own gym.

SOCCER: What's up with the women's soccer team? The season's over, it missed the playoffs, an assistant coach quit before a key stretch of games and players are either quitting or said to be wanting to quit. The Chanticleer did a big expose recently.

Coach Julie Davis is in the final year of her contract. It should make for some interesting negotiations. With athletic director Jim Fuller being a bottom-line kind of guy, no doubt the record will be examined.

The team's win total has declined overall and in the league each year after an initial 8-9-2 OVC Tournament season. Davis is 17-33-5 in her three seasons, 9-16-3 in the OVC.

THE HARSH REALITY: JSU associate athletic director for external affairs Roger Shultz has gone off to Hollywood to participate on “The Biggest Loser” television show, and it’s creating a hardship on the athletic department.

His responsibilities have fallen to Mike Parris, the assistant AD for marketing & broadcasting. Parris also is picking up the slack in special projects, on top of being the voice of JSU basketball.

Shultz, who runs the stadium video board during home football games, could be gone anywhere from two to 10 more weeks. The sense around campus is if he hasn’t returned by now, he’s probably getting on the show in Season 5.

He has a medical excuse, but his leave also falls under his six-month JSU employee probationary period. He brought time with him when he came to JSU from Troy.

Athletic director Jim Fuller was reluctant to discuss the issue at length, but there was something in his voice that expressed displeasure.

“All of us could lose weight by not going on a reality show,” he said.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Get over it

The fans who stuck around at the end of Saturday’s win over Tennessee Tech and paid attention or maybe saw the finish on CSS might have been the only ones who noticed, but it didn’t look like Tech coach Watson Brown was too happy with the Gamecocks after the game.

JSU quarterback Matt Hardin hooked up with Maurice Dupree on a 68-yard TD pass with 8:38 to play and the game well in hand, and Brown was noticeably upset about it.

The first thing Crowe did when he went to shake hands was tell Brown the post wasn’t called. Brown shook his head, kept Crowe in the embrace and whispered something to him, then pointed towards the scoreboard.

It was first-and-20 and the Gamecocks called a play that was designed to just move the ball. Was it the quarterback’s fault the safety wasn’t where he was supposed to be?

Hardin’s a fifth-year senior and trying to show he’s still a viable quarterback despite losing his starting job in Game 3. It was just like freshman quarterback Taurean Rhetta taking advantage of an opportunity to impress when he read and threw a 41-yard pass to Josh Moten late in a one-sided 2004 victory at UT-Martin that got Skyhawks athletic director Phil Dane all fired up.

"The point I made (to Brown) was we didn’t call a post route," Crowe said. "It was the standard route in that situation.

"Matt’s got great eyes. You don’t sneak up on Matt. He does it every day (in practice)."

It was the second week in a row Hardin came in and did something impressive. He guided the Gamecocks on a 99-yard touchdown drive in front of a national TV audience at Austin Peay Oct. 11.

"I thought Matt was in total control of all the strategy that we were trying to apply in the moment the ball was snapped," Crowe said of that drive. "It was a conversion drive and Matt was 100 percent. That was a Matt Hardin drive.

"Matt is a football person. He has committed himself that he’s a Gamecock and he’s doing everything he can. It’s no easy thing to do what Matt Hardin is doing. All it tells me is this guy’s going to be highly successful after football. He wants to be a coach; I’ll hire him."

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Tech QB 'questionable'

Not wanting to appear as if he were holding out on anybody, Tennessee Tech coach Watson Brown said Thurdsay quarterback Lee Sweeney could be available to play Saturday against Jacksonville State.

Sweeney was upgraded to "questionable" by the Tech training staff Thursday. That doesn't mean, however, he wll play.

Sweeney, last year's OVC Freshman of the Year, tore knee ligaments in the Murray State game Sept. 20 and Brown reiterated Tuesday he hoped to get the quarterback back for the Golden Eagles' Samford game.

Sweeney dressed out against Austin Peay, but did not play.

"We hope to get him back for Samford," Brown said. "I couldn't imagine the kid getting ready to play. He's on the field. He's doing some individual drill stuff. We're hoping to get him back for Samford."

The Golden Eagles have used four quarterbacks this season. Freshman Cass Barnes and junior receiver turned quarterback Steven Brown, the coach's son, are expected to play.

Sweeney had topped the 200-yard passing mark in two of the first three games this year, including 302 in the season opener at Eastern Illinois. He has passed for 2,987 yards in 15 games, placing him seventh in career yardage.

He was 11-of-27 for 117 yards in last year's 17-10 overtime loss to the Gamecocks.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

OVC basketball Media Day

Samford basketball coach Jimmy Tillette wandered over to Mike LaPlante's table during Wednesday's OVC Media Day and asked the Jacksonville State coach about the possibility of moving the teams' Jan. 7 game to another date.

Jan. 7 is the date of the BCS national championship football game, and -- discounting the fact he's a fan of potential game participant LSU -- Tillette recognizes how the conflict in a football crazy state like Alabama would impact the crowd in what typically is one of Jax State's biggest draws of the basketball season.

Since it's JSU's home game, it would be the Gamecocks' call. A move to Jan. 8 would give JSU home games on Jan. 8, 10 and 12. Samford would have the JSU road game on Jan. 8 and home games Jan. 10 and 12.

"I'd play it on the eighth, probably," Tillette said. "I can't believe our league puts games on the national championship date. I just can't believe our league does that. It doesn't make any sense."

LaPlante told Tillette he'd look at it, but not only their game is affected. The JSU and Samford women play the first part of that doubleheader at 5:30 p.m., with the men to follow approximately 30 minutes after its conclusion.

"I don't know," LaPlante said. "If they said we want to make sure we draw some fans, I'd think you'd just flip-flop the men's and women's game to have people do both. The championship game doesn't come on until like 8 o'clock. If we play at 5, everybody's gonna be where they gotta be for the 8 o'clock start. Then you say that's not fair to the women.

"I don't think we'll move the date. I think we'd probably adjust (the time). To me, I think it ends up being more of an administrative decision. Whatever makes the best sense."

YOUNG GUNS: The JSU women will be one of the youngest teams in the nation. The Gamecocks enter the season with a total of 38 starts among their players, making them the third youngest team in Division I behind Louisiana Tech (4) and Hofstra (22). Sophomore Jolie Efezokhae is the grizzled veteran, with 24 starts.

"You know, we're OK with that," JSU women's coach Becky Geyer said. "I'm really looking forward to getting started with these ladies because they're strengths are all very different. We have a lot of talent, young talent, but a lot of talent.

"We may be a team that starts different people throughout the year, some of it might depend on the matchups and what we feel like we need to run. In the bigger picture, I think it's not necessarily who starts, but who's in that rotation of 10, and that could change as well."

The Gamecocks were picked 11th in the preseason poll with 22 points, virtually unanimous for last.

"I'm OK with that, because we haven't proven yet what we have the ability to do after our first year here," Geyer said. "On the other hand, how many teams that are picked first really ever win? It's who's peaking at the end, so I don't put a lot of stock in that.

"But I do think the 22 points kind of fires you up a little bit. I know it'll fire our group up as well."

QUIPS AND QUIRKS: Among the best lines of the day from the women's segment ...

Murray State first-year coach Jody Adams on her background as point guard on Tennessee's 1991 national championship team: "They think they have Pat Summitt Jr. in town, but they don't."

Eastern Illinois coach Brady Sallee, offering some advice to Geyer on what to expect from a roster of so many young players: "When I started, my hairline looked like coach (Mike) Morris'," the follically challenged Sallee said, pointing to the well-coiffed Samford coach.

The best, however, was reserved for second-year Southeast Missouri coach Josh Ishee, whose team is overwhelmingly picked to win the women's title.

He alluded to Adams' notion that Murray was wearing 62-60 on its shirts, a motivator from last year's OVC Tournament final loss to SEMO. Then, in front of the room, the Redhawks' coach pulled off his red overshirt to reveal a white T-shirt with a bull's eye on the front.

"We know what's squarely on our chest," Ishee said.

From the men's side, program moderator Kyle Schwartz noted this was the sixth time in the last 30 years all 11 men's coaches in the league were the same as the year before. The first two coaches to speak made mention of keeping it that way, but Tillette nipped that.

"I don't have any plans on being back here next year," he said. He wasn't being mean. The Bulldogs go to the Southern Conference next year.

LaPlante joked Austin Peay coach Dave Loos was preparing to drop his trousers to reveal a bull's eye on his behind, but said Ishee stole his thunder. With all five starters back, defending regular-season champion Peay is the favorite in the men's race.

Monday, October 8, 2007

The madness begins

The JSU basketball team begins practice Friday when the volleyball team clears the floor in Pete Mathews Coliseum, but it won’t have Erik Adams at the start.

The 6-5 senior guard who gives the Gamecocks perhaps the strongest 3-4-5 combo in the OVC (with Amadou Mbodji and Dorien Brown), sprained his left ankle Friday and arrived for team pictures Monday with crutches and a wrap. He’s likely to be out for several weeks.

“If he’s gonna be injured, be injured now,” Gamecocks coach Mike LaPlante said. “You just want him to get back out there. He’ll be back.”

Adams averaged 6.8 points and 5.3 rebounds last year, but came on strong in the final 10 games of the season. His absence will give players like Erwin Staten, Oxford’s Jeremy Bynum, Nick Murphy a chance to show out.

“It’ll be a good opportunity for other guys to get more time, basically all of our 3s and 2s,” LaPlante said. “We could look to go big, but I think it’ll be more a perimeter thing”

LaPlante anticipates his team will be picked somewhere between sixth and eighth when the OVC announces the preseason poll at its media day Wednesday in Nashville.

The JSU women’s team opens its practice Friday at 7 p.m. in the Annex.

Second-year coach Becky Geyer has virtually an entire new roster and can’t wait to get started.

“We’re just looking forward to really getting a full practice in and not just getting started and your half-hour is over,” Geyer said, referring to the individual workouts that precede official practice. “It’s a puzzle and each player brings a different piece to the table. I think as a whole something very special is going to happen.”

Because of the influx of newcomers, Geyer estimated the conference coaches and publicists will have her Gamecocks 10th in their preseason poll.

Saturday, October 6, 2007

Back to work

After an exasperating 27-24 come-from-behind victory Thursday night, the Jacksonville State football team was given Friday and Saturday off by head coach Jack Crowe. But the Gamecocks will be back to work today for another Thursday game, this time at Austin Peay.

Actually, the two-day respite wasn't planned, but it was necessary.

"I thought we made a lot of mistake in (Thursday's) game because we hadn't had recovery time (from the Murray State game)," Crowe said. "We traded recovery time for intense preparation and I think it got us what we got in the fourth quarter (against UT-Martin).

"But I think we've gotta go back and get on a schedule. I think we'd still be recovering from two weeks back-to-back (so) I decided give them two days instead one."

This week's game with Austin Peay, set for ESPN-U television, will be the Gamecocks' first against the Governors since 1979. It'll be their first game at Peay since 1962 -- the last game in a 16-year run.

Even though it's been a while, the Gamecocks know the way. And no jokes about the last train to Clarksville, please.

"We drove past it going to Murray," Crowe said.

JSU leads the series 8-6-3.

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Good day to play

Count Jax State coach Jack Crowe as a big fan of the Thursday night game.
The Gamecocks play their next two games on the midweek night. The reason they’re playing Thursday this week is to avoid the conflicts and logistical problems created by Talladega race week, but it wouldn’t bother Crowe at all if the OVC considered going that way as the norm.
He’s already said he’d rather play on a Thursday than go on the road during race week.
“I don’t think there’s a bad in this,” Crowe said. “The bad was the short preparation.
“I think there’s a reason to talk about playing in our league on Thursdays. I think it runs into some issues when you’re trying to play up and putting that in the schedule. Tennessee Tech has done it and I think it’s probably worked pretty well for them.
“I’d like for somebody to give some consideration to what the value is. I could see the argument being for the value of being a Thursday night league. Some people would probably take exception to it --- there’s a down to everything --- but we play good on Thursday night. We’ve not ever made an issue out of it. We’re not going to make an issue with this short preparation week. It’s football, play.”
Would it work in the OVC? Would it work in Alabama, where the two SEC schools dominate the conversation and TV viewing habits? Drop a line with your thoughts?

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Double duty and other things

Ronald Murray and Brandt Thomas could be pulling double duty for the Jacksonville State football team this weekend at Murray State.

Murray was moved from fullback to defensive end before last week’s Eastern Kentucky game and twice was approached on the sideline about being prepared to go back in to help on offense. He didn’t have to go there, but he might this week.

“I told him I wasn’t going to call him ‘The Refrigerator’ if he played running back and defensive line in the same game,” JSU coach Jack Crowe said, referring to former Clemson and Chicago Bears behemoth William Perry. “I told him we would call him ‘Icebox.’ That’s what we called Michael Dean (Perry, the Frig’s brother).”

Thomas, meanwhile, was moved from the defensive line to the offensive line right before the season opener --- with the idea of moving back when center Tyler Ogletree got back --- but it hasn't happened yet, because the O-line has injuries elsewhere.

He may be easing his way back, as Crowe said Monday the sophomore might play both ways against the Racers.

“We sort of have Brandt Thomas in no-man’s land,” Crowe said. “We’ve got him on one side of the ball; he may be a two-way players this week, too.

“What a special guy he is. He cares about this football team. What you find out when you’re going through this little bit where the splinters are in the plank is which ones are here for them and which ones are here for us.”

And now for something completely different ...

BREAKING THE TAPE: For the first time in school history, the JSU men’s cross country team is ranked in the regional poll. The Gamecocks checked in at No. 10 in the South, but coach Steve Ray thinks his team was a little shortchanged.

“I can assure you that I, along with our guys, believe we are better than our current ranking,” he said.

The team, with three freshmen in its top five, has finished first, second and fourth this year.

Alabama, Florida State and Florida are 1-2-3 in the poll. Samford is 15th.

SOFTBALL TOURNAMENT: The Gamecocks and the City of Oxford are teaming up to put on a college softball tournament this weekend.

The inaugural Tera Ross Memorial Classic is scheduled for the Oxford Lake Softball Complex Saturday and Sunday. The 12-team event honors the memory of the former Jacksonville State pitcher killed in a car accident in Florida in 2003.

Here is JSU’s schedule and game times

Saturday: vs. Snead St., 9 a.m.; vs. Wallace, 5 p.m.; vs. West Georgia, 7 p.m.

Sunday: vs. Middle Georgia, 11 a.m.; vs. Mercer, 1 p.m. The top eight teams in the round-robin standings will play at 3 p.m., the bottom four teams in the standings will play at 5.

LOCAL FLAVOR: The JSU golf team has a good representation from Calhoun County on it.

The Gamecocks finished fifth at their most recent tournament, the McLaughlin Intercollegiate, at Bethpage State Park. Yes, that Bethpage, but not the famous Black Course.

Anyway, former Oxford High players Nathan Bennett and Marcus Harrell were both in the JSU lineup. Bennett tied for 20th, while Harrell tied for 47th -- on the Red Course.

Even though they didn't get to play the Black on this trip, the Gamecocks did get a look at it. And Harrell even had his picture taken next to the sign on the first tee that warns players of the difficulty of the course and the recommendation that it be played only by accomplished players. They certainly would've qualified.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

The buck stops here

The buck stops somewhere and at least for the foreseeable future with the Jacksonville State football team, it’s stopping with head coach Jack Crowe.

The era of waiting for things to happen is over. Patience is done. All the critical decisions now will go through Crowe, starting with the prep for Saturday’s game at Murray State (1-3, 0-1 OVC).

"After getting hit in the head, I finally realized we’re not a very well coached football team," Crowe said Sunday, a day after the Gamecocks (1-3, 0-1) fell to Eastern Kentucky. "The things that just don’t happen to good football teams are getting longer and longer. I think there’s improvement now, don’t get me wrong, I don’t think we’re going the wrong way, but I don’t think we’re going the right way fast enough."

No coach is losing their job and nobody is having his responsibility changed; offensive coordinator Ronnie Letson moved upstairs to the press box last week because of the quarterback change. But Crowe now will be handling the practice schedule, approach to the game plan and decisions on who goes on the field.

"I think a lot of folks on this team need my help," Crowe said. "I hope they’re willing to take it."

Read more about this development in Monday’s edition of the Star.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

What home field advantage?

Jacksonville State leads the series with Eastern Kentucky three games to one, but there's a quirky trend developing in the series. The road team has the upper hand. Three of the four games --- the last three --- have been won by the visiting team.

The Gamecocks won the first game in the series 49-14 in their first-ever OVC game in 2003 at Paul Snow Stadium, but in the years since JSU won in Richmond in 2004 (30-23), EKU won in Jacksonville in 2005 (31-14) and the Gamecocks won in Richmond last year (2-0).

“It’s usually the team that’s played the best (that’s won), I don’t think the travel had anything to do with it,” EKU coach Danny Hope said.

Part of the Colonels’ history coming to JSU is the game had usually been playing during Race Week at Talladega and the team has had to stay in Atlanta. But Hope discounted that as a factor as well.

“The logistics have been a problem, but I don’t know it’s been a factor in the win column,” he said.

JSU coach Jack Crowe believed the difference in the games has been field position, and that can occur anywhere.

“This game has had a lot of momentum in it,” Crowe said. “I think when players are emotional and trying to make things happen --- both teams will be and always will be for this game --- things happen.”

COMING BACK: As reported in the Star this morning, Shawn Green returned to the traveling 56 Monday and enjoyed his first practice back with the regulars that evening. It didn't take the former Weaver standout long to get acclimated to his new old surroundings.

"It was good to get back in the feel of things," he said. "I've been on the scout team for a while so I had to get used to running the plays and getting my feet right and stuff like that."

He wasn't sure exactly what his role would be Saturday. He was a ball-carrier and kickoff returner last year. "Right now, I'm just looking at running back," he said.

The Gamecocks also welcomed fifth-year senior quarterback Matt Hardin back to practice. Hardin, who lost his starting job to junior Cedric Johnson last week, wasn’t at practice Monday for what coach Jack Crowe said was “to put his house in order.”

Crowe said the Gamecocks need Hardin to win, and predicted the quarterback would have a positive impact in a game at some point this season.

"I don't think the final chapter in Matt Hardin's career is written," Crowe said.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Increasing the odds

Jacksonville State coach Jack Crowe is expecting a hard-fought game between two physical teams playing for an early leg up in the OVC race when the Gamecocks play Eastern Kentucky Saturday at Paul Snow Stadium.

With temperatures expected to be down from the Gamecocks’ home opener against Chattanooga (a 33-19 win), Crowe also is hoping the 12th man will be what's up and hot.

“I expect a good crowd,” he said. “I feel very fortunate (for) the crowd we had last time we were home. It was a hot day and I think that was tough on some people … but despite that, I thought our students were there and the students made a difference. I know they made a difference to us --- our students and our band.

“Of course, they’re a younger group, able to withstand the heat, (but) the RV park was full and people were having a good time around here. It added excitement to the team to have that kind of atmosphere. I hope with the temperature cooling off a little bit we can go ahead and start this conference race off by making a statement that playing at home is an advantage for us.”

If it’s anything like previous years, the game promises to be a tight one. And the teams have a lot in common. They both want to play physical football. They’ve both switched quarterbacks to a player who can make plays with his legs. And they’ve both moved a lot of players around in hopes of getting them all in the right places.

“This is going to be a hard-fought game,” Crowe said. “It’s the conference; they know it’s the conference. They’re going to try to get off to a 1-0 start; we’re trying to get off to a 1-0 start. They’re going to come in here and try to make the game physical; we’re going to try to make the game physical. Both of us are going to try to play the best football we can play with everything on the line.

“This is a match-up game … I feel very good about every match-up against Eastern Kentucky. Not that we’re good that we have an advantage, but I don’t think we operate at a disadvantage anywhere. There are a lot of even stevens. We’ve got to make the even stevens come out to be ours.”

That’s where he hopes the crowd will come into play.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Missing pieces

You certainly want to go into every game with all your bullets, and especially a game against a bigger opponent. But the Gamecocks will be missing two players Saturday night against Memphis and have concerns about several others.

Their weekend injury report lists receiver Taurean Rhetta (shoulder contusion) and linebacker Alexander Henderson (knee) both out for the game. Defensive linemen Sean Darby (pinched nerve) and Will Raysor (low back strain) are listed as questionable.

Fullback Ronald Murray (ankle), center Tyler Ogletree (knee) and offensive lineman Matt Washington (Achilles) are probable.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

First, you've gotta believe

Appalachian State set the bar high for the little guy when it upset Michigan in The Big House two weeks ago. It also gave all Football Championship Subdivision (FCS) hope when they play up against the Bowl Subdivision teams.

Jacksonville State has had some --- not much --- success playing up. But to have any chance at all, the Gamecocks have to think big, just like App State did when it went to play the Wolverines.

"You’ve got to believe you’re going to win," JSU head coach Jack Crowe said. "You’ve got to be prepared to win. Not prepared to play good. Not prepared to hope and wish. But you’ve got to have a plan to win that is a sound plan that includes all the fundamentals of the game … When you believe you can win and the other team gives you opportunities, it won’t be the last time (it happens)."

For the record, the Gamecocks are 3-9 against the upper division. They have beaten two FBS-level teams in the Crowe era --- UL-Lafayette (28-14) and Arkansas State (31-28) --- but they’ve lost their last four, including one-sided affairs with Kansas (41-6) and Mississippi State (twice, 51-13 and 35-3).

In these matchups, the smaller school has to take advantage of every chance it gets to steal momentum. That’s what App State did against Michigan. Because you know when the big school gets the lead, they’ll keep piling it on.

The OVC is full of cases in point. Within the league already this year, Louisville buried Murray State (72-10), Cincinnati crushed Southeast Missouri (59-3), Kentucky killed Eastern Kentucky (50-10) and Purdue pummeled Eastern Illinois (52-6).

"There does have to be, in a game like this, a certain degree of opportunity --- your preparation, then opportunity," Crowe said. "That’s an old-timey way of saying luck, but luck’s when preparation meets opportunity. I guess you do have to be lucky, but it’s not that much opportunity that has to be realized, to be honest with you.

"That left wing at Michigan (on the kicking team) is not going to step out ever again (after getting two kicks blocked). The Citadel deal (when Crowe lost at Arkansas), they never crossed our 50; the ball hits the ground, hits (his player) in the chest going full speed by accident, (otherwise) they don’t score in a month of Sundays. Those are what you call opportunities, and there are opportunities in every ball game."

The Gamecocks had one last year at Mississippi State when linebacker Drew Robinson got hit in the chest with a pass, but couldn’t hold on. He held on twice last week against Chattanooga, and turned one of them into a touchdown.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

That's what friends are for

Mike LaPlante doesn’t like it. Jimmy Tillette doesn’t like it. Like most coaches, Jack Crowe doesn’t like to play his friends, either, and he considers Memphis coach Tommy West a friend.

They worked together for three years at Clemson — “three good years,” as Crowe recalls. Three years with rings. Atlantic Coast Conference championship rings.

So highly did Crowe think of West, he tried to hire him as a defensive assistant when he got the Arkansas job. Unsure whether it would be a coordinator’s job or just an assistant’s post, West took a job as running backs coach at Tennessee.

“I don’t like playing friends, no,” Crowe said earlier this week. “You’d like to have a certain type of emotion to go compete and there’s no way I’m going to have anything but a smile when I see Tommy.”

After all, you tend to develop a bond when you create NCAA legislation together.

Or, if you listen to the story, you’re the subject of NCAA legislation being created.
To hear Crowe tell it, he and West were at the root of the NCAA putting in the 48-hour dead period in recruiting.

“That’s a fairly bold statement,” Crowe agreed. “Tommy and I pulled off a recruiting coup in the State of Georgia … that the only way (the University of) Georgia could stop us was to create an NCAA rule. That’s not a want-to-think-big-about-yourself (statement). That’s a fact.”

Clemson and Georgia were running neck and neck for a linebacker named John Johnson. It was one of those deals Georgia fans would show up at Johnson’s basketball games wearing the red-and-black just to remind him of his state “loyalties.”

Johnson committed to UGA on the Monday of signing week, then when it came time to put pen to paper, signed with Clemson on Wednesday. He went on to become one of the Tigers’ finest players.

The Bulldog Nation was livid.

“When John committed to Georgia on Monday and signed with Clemson on Wednesday, coach (Vince) Dooley made danged sure the 48-hour dead period would be enacted; it was in about a month,” Crowe recalled. “I guess you could say we were a couple of legislators.”

Monday, September 10, 2007

Johnson in, Rhetta out, Ogletree on the way

Cedric Johnson worked as the Gamecocks' first-team quarterback for the first time Monday night, but not before spending some time with The Star for a story later this week on what the junior quarterback is all about. "I want to win," he said. "I'll do whatever it takes for us to win."

Even though Johnson will start in the Liberty Bowl, head coach Jack Crowe expects Matt Hardin will play in the game, although there is no script for when the fifth-year senior will go in. Johnson had been going in on the third series behind Hardin the last two games.

While the Gamecocks worked with a new starting quarterback, word comes that they're likely to miss senior receiver Taurean Rhetta Saturday. Rhetta impacts so many areas on the team, and if Hardin had quit after his demotion, he would've been the next option behind Johnson. Purely opinion here --- but likely a popular one --- it's more important to have Rhetta available for the OVC games down the road than for a game against a FBS (the old I-A) opponent the Gamecocks aren't likely to win.

Another opinion, the coaches who play in the Football Championship Subdivision and Football Bowl Subdivision (FCS, FBS) don't even call it that. Do we have to? You know what we're talking about when we call it I-A and I-AA.

There is good news on the injury front. The Gamecocks are expecting to have center Tyler Ogletree back in practice and head coach Jack Crowe expects him to play some against the Tigers. Some is the operative word, like about five or six plays. You can read more about the offensive line and Ogletree's impact on it later this week in The Star.

Saturday, September 8, 2007

Change is afoot

Head coach Jack Crowe has finally pulled the trigger many JSU fans suspected would happen for some time. He announced after the Gamecocks beat Chattanooga 33-19 Saturday that mobile junior Cedric Johnson would replace fifth-year senior Matt Hardin as the starting quarterback next week in Memphis.

Johnson just seems to fit the offensive personality the Gamecocks have this year better.
There are things that Hardin does better than Johnson and vice versa. Johnson didn’t endear himself to the JSU fans too well on his first two series Saturday. He got caught on a wild 27-yard loss on his first series and threw an interception on his next.

The decision to go with Johnson was solidified at halftime. Johnson moved the offense for 155 yards and their first touchdown of the year in the second half. The pass he threw to Derrick Harris for the score was placed in such a way only Harris could have gotten it; quality throw.

The defense and Gavin Hallford saved them on this day, though. Hallford kicked four field goals for the second game in a row (JSU’s offense has failed to score a touchdown in 11 trips inside the red zone this year) and the defense came up with six takeaways and three scores.

The Gamecocks dodged a big bullet by winning Saturday. Had they lost to the Mocs, they were looking at 2005 all over again. That’s the year they started 0-3 – with all due respect to App State, you can’t expect them to beat FBS Memphis -- and these 2007 losses would’ve have been nearly as close as the ones they took from Furman and Chattanooga before losing to UAB in ’05.

Hoop dreams

Walker Russell has a decision to make in the next few days that will impact his basketball career.
The former Jacksonville State guard has the enviable choice of going to NBA training camp in October with either the Detroit Pistons or New York Knicks. Both choices have their upsides, but Russell has to decide which opportunity fits his game plan best.
The Knicks are likely to have one spot open, but it’s not expected to go to a point guard. The Pistons have two spots, one of which could go to a point guard. He played with both teams in the Las Vegas Summer League the last two years, but the Pistons have been working him out since he returned from Europe.
"I’m in debate on which one I want to go to still," said Russell, in town earlier this week working out with the Gamecocks. "I’ve got to make up my mind before the weekend (is over). When I get back to Detroit, I’ve got to know if I’m going to go to Detroit or New York.
"My decision isn’t hard. It’s who’s going to give me the best opportunity. To me, the opportunity is greater in Detroit … but I’m not leaning one way or the other right now. I’m going to talk it over with my agent this weekend some more and we’re going to go from there."
So the NBA is out there for him, but he was "real hesitant" about talking about it the other day.
"Obviously, it’s a great opportunity," he said. "It’s always a great opportunity when you can be put in a position like that, but I don’t like talking about stuff like that. I think it’s a jinx. I just like to let my cards play out."
And he does have an ace in the hole. If he doesn’t make it with either NBA team, he’s got a sweet, six-figure deal to play in Germany. He played for the best team in the Czech Republic last year.
"I’ve got a chance to do my ultimate dream, but that’s not a bad thing to fall back on," he said.
He has connections with both teams. His godfather, Isiah Thomas, runs the Knicks; his father and uncle both played for the Pistons. But he wants to make it on his own merits.
"There were other teams that were very interested, but at the end of the day, it’s not what you know, it’s who you know, so you’ve got to go with who you know," he said. "But it’s not like they came in and (said) since your Isiah’s godson or since your dad played for the Pistons we’re just automatically going to pick you up. I’ve got to still show that I can play.
"It’s all about timing. I guess last year wasn’t my time. I’m right there. My foot is like basically in the door. I’ve got one foot in, the other one’s right behind it … I’ve had guys who are solid say, ‘Walk, you’re good enough to play in this league.’"
Once Russell makes his decision, he will be the first JSU player to attend an NBA camp in the history of the league’s two-round draft.
The players on the current JSU roster welcomed him into their pick-up games when he walked into the gym.
"They know who he is," JSU coach Mike LaPlante said, "but from a credibility standpoint, he’s doing what they aspire to do. For those kids, it’s probably fun to be able to play against a guy who’s played over in Europe and who also has some NBA (experiences)."

Thursday, September 6, 2007

Random notes

The JSU women’s golf team plays its Chris Banister Classic today, Saturday and Sunday at Silver Lakes. The tournament will be played at its earliest date ever to take advantage of optimum playing conditions on the golf course … The JSU volleyball team will receive their 2006 OVC championship rings in festivities connected with Sunday’s home match against Albany … The women’s basketball team has begun off-season workouts. With some many new players on the roster, the coaches are concentrating on the fundamentals of their system, so to avoid burning valuable teaching time when practice begins in October … The men’s team has a new twist on their workouts. They’ve started using yoga to increase their flexibility. Look for a story in an upcoming edition of the Star … And speaking of the men’s team, former Gamecocks guard Walker Russell was back on campus the last couple days working out with the fellas. He has opportunities to go to preseason camp with the Pistons and the Knicks. He’d like to have his decision made on which one by the end of the weekend. Look for that story in Sunday’s Star ... OK, here's your football fix for the day. It's been agreed in principle for the JSU-Chattanooga series to continue for four more years (2011). Signed contracts are pending.

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Big screen debut

Jacksonville State’s scoreboard and video board complex makes its football debut Saturday when the Gamecocks play Chattanooga in their home opener at Paul Snow Stadium.

The big board, the crown jewel of an $800,000 scoreboard project, sits high above the east end of the stadium and head coach Jack Crowe wouldn’t mind breaking it in in a big way.

“I hope we burn out the bulbs scoring so many points,” he said. “And we are going to score some points.”

Even though the screen faces the west, JSU officials insist the setting sun during an afternoon game will not affect the picture on the video board. They rave about its sharpness at night.

Besides the usual fare of score, time and down, the video board is capable of showing television-quality pictures. Shown on the board will be a 90-second team introduction, the starting lineups, and personal welcomes from JSU president Bill Meehan, athletic director Jim Fuller and Ohio Valley Conference commissioner Jon Steinbrecher.

And, oh yeah, instant replays.

“Woe be it for the officials if they miss a call,” Crowe said.

Actually, the OVC has an instant replay policy that prohibits the showing of controversial replays that would include, but not be limited to, penalties, timing decisions, coaches and officials in discussions or “other situations that could incite a violent crowd reaction toward the participants.” Non-controversial calls should be shown “in a manner consistent with sportsmanship and good taste,” the policy reads.

The replays are dictated by the TV production truck, but its display on the big board will be controlled in the press box by Roger Shultz, JSU’s associate athletic director for external affairs.

The board was in operation for graduation, but hasn’t been used on a game day yet.
Crowe suspects the players and coaches will be glancing at it from time to time, perhaps using it to pick up nuances of particular plays.

“I doubt if I’ll look at it that much,” JSU senior receiver and captain Taurean Rhetta said, “because some of the stadiums we have played in have had screens — big ol’ screens — and I never really paid it too much attention.

“I think all the players know there’s a time and a place for everything, and during the course of the game you should be focused on the game, not on the new big screen.”

Here are some interest tidbits:
Senior tackle Carnillous Tables is expected to start for the Gamecocks Saturday. He didn't start in the season opener for disciplinary reasons.

If you think JSU has quarterback troubles, you haven't seen Chattanooga. Senior starter Antonio Miller suffered a knee injury in Thursday's opening-night loss to Carson-Newman. He didn't practice Monday and his availability for Saturday is considered right now a game-time decision. There will be more on the JSU quarterback situation in Thursday's Star.

Monday, September 3, 2007


It was a tough night for the Gamecocks in Montgomery; almost nothing went right. There were some segments of good football, head coach Jack Crowe said at his Monday news conference, but the whole affair was "disappointing" and perplexing.

They did win the kicking game, but if they had been able to finish on offense, they would have been trading extra points for Gavin Hallford's school-record four field goals. As many times as they made it to the red zone, they should have scored 55 or 60 points (at least that's what the formula says).

The two (or is it three) quarterback system needs work. On one hand, you have a QB who can grasp a game plan quickly; on the other, you have one who seemingly can make plays (although Matt Hardin did show an ability to make some plays with his legs) -- at least that's the way the coaches see it. If the Gamecocks could find a way to merge the two, they'd have a Payton Award candidate. Look for Hardin to start Saturday against Chattanooga.

But that's not the only thing that needs fixing. The thin offensive line broke down too often for anyones liking; the nearly two dozen missed assignments resulted in three sacks and 14 plays for negative yardage. And the defense played pretty good until the last possession of the first half, and then the dam completely broke.

Let me say something about Alabama State. The Hornets' defense was good and fast, perhaps as good as any the Gamecocks will see on their level this year. And, while I'm not one to tell a coach what to do, if I were ASU coach Reggie Barlow, I'd turn Chris Mitchell into the starter pretty quick.

Now back to the Gamecocks. Unfortunately, none of what they have wrong can be fixed with personnel changes. They have what they have and there's nothing more --- you can't go to the Wal-Mart to pick up a new player --- so they'll have to live with it until the players get comfortable. And, as you might expect, they're confident it will come around.

Besides, in the grand scheme of things, losing these non-conference games isn't going to keep them out of the playoffs, but then, you wonder if they stay on this track, how will their psyche be by the time OVC play starts.

Two years ago, they started 0-3 with two losses coming in the closing seconds --- not minutes, like Saturday --- and I-A UAB, then they went 6-1 in the league before losing to Eastern Illinois in what became a conference title game. This year, they lost to Alabama State in the last three minutes, have Chattanooga --- the same second team in 2005 --- and upper division Memphis. Hmmmm.

Speaking of the OVC, the league took a beating in the opening week. Austin Peay and Samford beat non-Division I opponents and Eastern Illinois beat an OVC opponent. But the rest of the league went 0-6, with losses like 59-3, 73-10, 50-10. Ouch.

That's all for now --- isn't it enough? Look for the deeper numbers in this morning's Star and what the team plans to do about fixing them.

Saturday, September 1, 2007

Lots of fans having fun.

Outside the sidelines

Hi, this Ben Cunningham. I work on The Star's news staff, but I'm also a big Jax State fan. Al's kind enough to let me post a little on his blog today from the Gamecocks' season opener at Alabama State. He told me "Anything outside the sidelines" is fair game.

As a fan, I'm not an impartial observer like Al, or the folks we have posting on the Alabama and Auburn blogs today, but I'll try to keep my rooting to a minimum. If I can find wi-fi access outside the stadium, I'll try to post about the tailgating festivities. Otherwise, I'll have some photos and the occasional short text message sent from my cell phone.

Enjoy the game!

Friday, August 31, 2007

season to start tomorrow

Hello. Al Muskewitz here. Getting ready for another season of following Jacksonville State athletics. Look for regular blogs on this channel, but before I head off to Montgomery tomorrow I'm covering high school football tonight (in Jacksonville, no less, so I should know my way around). See you tomorrow.


Sorry, this isn't Musky. It's Bran Strickland, the Star's Sports Editor.

Before Al gets started, I just wanted to welcome you to the Gamecocks' Blog. I'm sure y'all are reading Al's stuff on Web site or in our paper, but this is where we hope you'll come to find out more.

It might be Al's take on a certain situation, it might be a quick sidenote from practice. Heck, it might even be a link to a story about the opposing team that their hometown paper is writing (like this about Saturday's opponent).

Whatever it is, we want this to be a place where you can come to grab that quick nugget of knowledge.

And while you ready yourself for Saturday's kickoff, enjoy this rendition of "I'll Fly Away" by the Southerners.