The Gamecocks are coming off a 31-28 loss to Eastern Illinois that came down to not making a play on the final snap of the game.
Watching the players exit the dressing room, it was obviously hard to take. Crowe gave them the first 24 hours to wallow in it and the next 24 to prepare to do something about it, so when they start preparing for undefeated Tennessee State on Tuesday, all the attention is focused on the mission going forward.
“This is where I say, 'Be a big boy, get over it and go on,'” Crowe said. “Crying about it very long means you’re not grown up.”
That’s fine with the players. Quarterback Marques Ivory would just as soon forget about it as quickly as possible. He was intercepted three times, fumbled once and was pressured into a wobbly completion on the final play that prevented the Gamecocks (3-3, 2-2 OVC) from stopping the clock for a potential game-tying field goal.
“I didn’t play so good, but I can’t dwell on it,” Ivory said. “If I do, I’m not going to do good next week. I’ve got to keep going forward from here.”
And the game this week is as big as any this year for the Gamecocks. They have to beat Tennessee State to have any hope of staying in the conference race.
The Tigers (7-0, 3-0) are the only undefeated team in the OVC – one of four overall in the FCS – and a win by JSU not only will keep the Gamecocks in the hunt, it will further muddle the OVC race. The last time they played an undefeated team this late in the season was 1995 (7-0 Troy).
“I think it defines us,” Crowe said of the opportunity. “If we can beat Tennessee State you can call us a good football team -- a really good football team -- because it will take a really good football team to beat them, which I look forward to being the case.”
The Gamecocks did a lot of things that should’ve won them the game Saturday. They outgained the Panthers, had the ball more time and made three fourth-down defensive stops in the red zone.
But they were killed by five turnovers and three missed or blocked field goal attempts that led directly to 24 EIU points.
“That’s just a heavy price,” Crowe said. “There’s a line you cross where you can’t overcome it and we crossed that line.”
Crowe agreed the Gamecocks were in position to win the game “up to the very end,” but conceded they “mismanaged” the final 22 seconds.
On the game’s final snap, Ivory was escaped heavy pressure, but tried to throw the ball away from a twisted position. It didn’t get to the sideline, Washaun Ealey caught it in bounds and the Gamecocks couldn’t get the clock stopped.
“There was clearly enough time to do what we needed to be done and with a guy in my opinion who’s one of the best game managers I’ve ever coached,” he said. “We just didn’t get it managed.”
He chalked up the last play to Ivory trying too hard to make a play. It’s an admirable quality, he agreed, but he sometimes wishes the quarterback would “just be conservative sometimes” in some of his approach.
Despite the finish, Crowe reaffirmed his trust in the fifth-year senior “as a player and a person.” He maintained “we’re not changing the batting order” at quarterback, although he did say junior Coty Blanchard may not have played as much as he should have last week and other times this season.
“Marques Ivory is a very intellectual person,” Crowe said. “He has the capacity to grasp and respond to all this.”
The loss to EIU serious crimped some of the Gamecocks’ goals, but Crowe remains adamant that the defeat doesn’t alter their mission, which is what this second half of the season has become.
“I don’t think goals are something you change; if you change them they weren’t really goals to begin with,” Crowe said. “I think there’s another dynamic of direction and that would be a mission.
“I don’t think our mission is ever any different, but now the time is to focus on the mission rather than goals. Don’t forget the goals, but the mission is for us to represent Jacksonville State University and believe when you do good things, good things are going to happen.
“(The rest of the season is) more a mission probably now than the goal, but our goals are never going to change. Our goals are always to win a championship, but right now to focus on that would be a distraction for us. Our whole mission is how competitive we are as an athletics program, as a football program. We better danged make sure the mission is not lost in this.”
Sports Writer Al Muskewitz: 256-235-3577. On Twitter @JSUSports_Star.