From here on out, it’s all about closing.
The calendar still says October, but in Gamecocks coach Jack Crowe’s mind it’s already November and it’s the way the Gamecocks play this month that will define them.
“I’m calling this November, I use that tag, but it’s really what you call the finishing element,” said Crowe, who was exceptionally philosophical in this Sunday post-mortem. “Whenever you start building a house, they all look the same until you start finishing them and then there starts to be a defining element about everything.
“The defining element of a season is how you finish it. ‘You’ll remember November’ is the tag. It’s not quite November yet, but it is as far as I’m concerned.”
The coaches get it, Crowe said, and he spent all day Sunday around the players to make sure they do as well.
The Gamecocks, 4-3 overall and 3-2 in the OVC after knocking off previously undefeated Tennessee State 31-28 in overtime Saturday, have had mixed success the end of the last few seasons.
Last year they split their last four games, but won the last two – on the road – to recover a share of the league title even if they didn’t get a playoff bid out of it. Two years ago they went 1-3 in a stretch that carried into a December playoff game after an 8-0 start. In 2009, they won all four to post the best record in the league even though they weren’t eligible for the crown.
This year’s four-game closing gauntlet starts with homecoming Saturday against Murray State, a team Crowe agrees can embarrass you if you’re not prepared.
The Racers (3-4, 2-2 OVC) rank third in the country in passing offense, fourth in total offense and fifth in scoring offense. They have scored 49 points or more in each of their last four games (2-2) before last week’s open date.
Quarterback Casey Brockman, who Crowe called “the one unique dude in this league” for his ability to find success in the seams, leads the country in passing and is second in total offense and passing yards. He averages 37 completions a game at a 70-percent clip.
The Gamecocks are second in the OVC in pass defense.
“We get it wrong, we get lit up,” Crowe said. “We get it right, we play good enough to win.”
In the meantime, the Gamecocks are trying to settle a little quarterback issue of their own.
Fifth-year senior Marques Ivory left Saturday’s game in the third quarter with a hamstring injury and didn’t return except to participate in the overtime coin toss. Crowe said Ivory told him he was ready to go back in, but he wasn’t certain how much of that was game-day adrenaline talking.
“Let’s see the adrenaline go away and see what we’ve got,” Crowe said. “I hope we run him Monday to see what he can do.
“I’d be very concerned if we didn’t have Marques Ivory for this football game, but I really don’t sense that will be the case, although I can’t give you any evidence. I’m waiting on evidence.”
Coty Blanchard finished the drive on which Ivory got hurt and scored the go-ahead touchdown. But he also threw an interception in a 56-second exchange of three turnovers and took a sack on third down right before Griffin Thomas’ game-winning 44-yard field goal.
“If (Ivory) can take a snap and move around Saturday, he will be the starting quarterback,” Crowe said. “When you’ve got a senior who’s played that many games, he does not have to practice Tuesday or Wednesday to play. If he doesn’t practice Thursday, it becomes a whole different thought.”
Freshman running back Troymaine Pope also left Saturday’s game with an undisclosed injury. It wasn’t believed to be as severe as the knee injury he suffered earlier this season, but his availability going forward will be determined by his effectiveness with the restrictions the injury likely will place upon him.
Sports Writer Al Muskewitz: 256-235-3577. On Twitter @JSUSports_Star.
JSU’s record in season’s final four games since 2003
- 2003 - 3-1-x
- 2004 - 3-1-x
- 2005 - 3-1
- 2006 - 3-1
- 2007 - 2-2
- 2008 - 3-1
- 2009 - 4-0
- 2010 - 1-3-x
- 2011 - 2-2