And for Jacksonville State fans tempted to ding Clark for what seems from the stands to be clock mismanagement, let’s turn the clock back 10 months.
Who remembers how happy the base was to finally get the coaching change for which so many clamored for years?
Who remembers how ready everyone was to see a younger, fresh face instead of an older, storytelling name dropper?
A young coach JSU wanted and hired, so live with a young coach.
It’s one thing to have a young coach make what seems to be mistakes, but don’t forget how it felt when it seemed like a veteran coach made them.
Coaches just might have thought things through more deeply than people realize, because both coaches go through practice from week to week. They get a feel for their team and a game and don’t always talk publicly about every factor that went into a decision.
Some prefer to protect their players, which is one of many things Clark has gotten right with his first JSU team.
That’s why one won’t hear Clark talk much about how quarterback Max Shortell’s three interceptions might have factored into his decision not to run a hurried, third-down pass against compressed coverage on a short field from the Murray State 8-yard line Saturday.
The yardage was too far out to consider a run-pass option.
Sure, Clark could have told Shortell to throw it away, if Shortell doesn’t see an open receiver quickly. But what if a receiver looks open only because of a disguised coverage?
Or what if Shortell gets sacked, and a 25-yard field goal turns into a 35-yarder? JSU kicker Griffin Thomas, who hadn’t practiced all week because of a sore groin, had missed two from more than 40 yards but made two from 30 and 25 yards.
Thomas’ injury was a card Clark held this past week, partly because Murray State coach Chris Hatcher might find the information useful.
So, Clark let the clock run down to four seconds, called his final timeout and sent the field-goal unit on the field to kick the game-tying, 25-yard field goal. That got his team to overtime after the Gamecocks had fought back from a 20-10 halftime deficit.
JSU wound up losing 35-34 in overtime when Hatcher made what seemed like a more gutsy call to go for the game-deciding two-point conversion, but Hatcher’s decision was as much a no-brainer as Clark’s. Hatcher’s team was playing on the road. His defense has worn down, evidenced by JSU’s school-record 652 yards and the two plays it took JSU to score from the 25 in overtime.
Clark also knew Murray State’s defense had worn down. His team had won two straight overtime games, so he took his chances on overtime at home.
And it’s hard to fault Clark for the fact that JSU had just one timeout left on the final drive of regulation. One of the two timeouts he called in the second half came during that final drive and the other while JSU was on defense.
He called two timeouts while JSU was on defense in the first half.
Of the six timeouts he called in an overtime game involving two no-huddle, hurry-up teams, four were on defense.
He wishes he could have called his third timeout of the first half, but wide receiver Josh Barge fumbled into the end zone. Murray State recovered for a touchback with one second to play.
Yes, Clark has had his moments this season, like calling a timeout he didn’t have in the North Alabama game.
There was the uncalled timeout between two goal-line plays at the end of the first half at Alabama State. About that.
On mornings and days before games, Clark and his staff meet to discuss all manner of potential situations and decisions. The day before a game, Clark will practice situations, like time for one play and having to throw into the end zone.
“We’re constantly working on end-of-game and end-of-half situations, so that’s why I was so disappointed in the Alabama State thing,” he said. “That’s something we work on all the time, whether it’s new quarterback, hadn’t been with you, clock. That was a first-game issue.
“This last game, there was never a doubt. That’s why I was kind of laughing about thinking there might have been some issue. I had no doubt. I would have liked to have maybe run one more to get it to the middle … to have a perfect angle (for the kick).”
Clark is in his 10th year as a head coach, the first nine leading a nationally ranked Class 6A high school program at Prattville. Then again, he is a first-year college head coach and might make a mistake or two.
He’s done plenty to warrant flack-free time to learn from mistakes, whether they come in wins or losses.
Sports columnist Joe Medley: 256-235-3576, firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter: @jmedley_star.