Not only was the coaching staff hunkered down to fix the problems from Thursday’s dramatic 24-23 season-opening win over UT Martin, it had to start making plans to go forward with a new quarterback.
The Coty Blanchard era begins today as the ninth-ranked Gamecocks (1-0) start preparing to play at No. 21 Chattanooga (0-1) this week.
Blanchard takes over for senior Marques Ivory, who underwent season-ending surgery Friday after sustaining a fractured right fibula on a broken play in the second quarter of the opener. The sophomore from Cherokee County was immediately elevated to the starter, with fifth-year senior Thomas Darrah and redshirt freshman Steven Coates installed as battling backups.
“It was extremely busy because we found out so much,” JSU coach Jack Crowe said Sunday. “In first games there is a certain degree of what you don’t know and we have a lot of moving parts (most notably a new defensive approach, six new coaching assignments and numerous new starters and players).
“You’ve got a combination of a lot of things you see for the first time and you’ve got to deal with it … We could be a considerably better football team the next time we line up from having played that game.”
The general assessment made from reviewing the film was the Gamecocks had “a lot of people who didn’t play as good as they practiced.” The defense, which Crowe admitted is “depleted in some areas,” played “slower” than the coach had seen before, and offensively the Gamecocks “didn’t get our playmakers in position to make their plays near enough.”
Crowe pinned the defense’s shortcomings on uncertainty and hesitation of the first-time players and the veterans taking on multiple responsibilities. No performance-related movement within the depth chart is planned on either side of the ball, as game experience is considered the solution.
Blanchard played the rest of the game after Ivory got hurt and spent much of the weekend getting mentally prepared to be the full-time starter. He was 9 of 17 for a career-high 133 yards and a touchdown passing in the game and rushed for 32 yards, but he also took a bad 11-yard loss in the fourth quarter.
The Gamecocks don’t plan to trim the playbook to accommodate the change, but they will “cater” to the elements within it Blanchard does best. That presumably means more option, which Chattanooga played well at times in its 40-7 loss at Nebraska Saturday.
Darrah has the first priority in the pecking order among the backups because of his practice and playing experience, but Crowe said he has “no hesitation” in going to Coates if circumstances warrant. “There’s a chance” Coates could play Saturday, the coach said.
The installation of Blanchard as the No. 1 quarterback does create another interesting personnel issue for the Gamecocks. Do they leave him as their full-time punter as well?
Blanchard has been the Gamecocks’ backup quarterback and punter since his arrival. It might have been one thing to use Blanchard as the punter when he was playing quarterback on a part-time basis, but is it prudent now when the options behind him are clearly untested? It’d be like putting John McCain in the White House with Sarah Palin.
Crowe said he didn’t see a risk in Blanchard doing double duty as a starting quarterback, but it makes backup punter Jake Scott, a walk-on from Spring Garden, “more of a viable consideration.”
“I feel OK with Jake,” Crowe said. “I don’t have any question he can do it” if called upon.
Al Muskewitz covers Jacksonville State sports for The Star. He can be reached at 256-235-3577.