By all standards the Jacksonville State quarterback’s career has been a solid one. He has been an active part of 31 wins — including the biggest one in the Gamecocks’ Division I history — ranks in the top 10 in a dozen of the program’s all-time passing lists and is on pace to become the fifth-leading passer in school history.
But as the weeks wind down in this season, in his mind, there has been something missing.
“I’m just waiting to have that day; I haven’t had one yet,” he said. “Like what I would think would be a good game. I don’t think I’ve had a good game this year so far yet.”
Good games are a relative term. Last week against Murray was the first time this season he failed to complete at least 50 percent of his passes — and he missed the mark by only one throw — but he still passed for 205 yards. He has avoided being intercepted in four of the last five games, although Eastern Illinois got him three times.
His games have been good enough to get the Gamecocks (5-3, 4-2 OVC) wins in four of their last five games and keep them in the chase for an Ohio Valley Conference championship.
Coach Jack Crowe has called Ivory “equal to any quarterback anywhere” and has often praised his game management skills and ability to keep the chains moving.
But the two league losses have hit the fifth-year senior hard. Even some of the wins — like last week’s — left him lamenting that he left some plays out on the field.
“It just hasn’t been smooth yet, that’s what I really mean; I hadn’t had a smooth game yet,” Ivory said. “I’ve been in college for five years and I just feel like it should have more of a rhythm to how it’s going. It’s not like it should be, I think.
“I know it’s not going to be perfect, but it just hasn’t been to my expectations. I feel like if I have a good game we’ll win.”
Ivory couldn’t remember the last time he had what he considered a good game. He wouldn’t even put the landmark 2010 victory over Ole Miss, where he directed the fourth-quarter game-tying drive, in that category. His best game ever was 444 yards passing and four total touchdowns against Eastern Kentucky in 2010, but the Gamecocks lost.
The frantic final play of last month’s Eastern Illinois game — where Ivory forced a pass to make something happen and the Gamecocks couldn’t stop the clock for a tying field goal — was frustrating, but that’s not what he’s talking about, either. His angst runs more along the lines of seeing receivers wide open on key downs and not being able to get them the ball or getting it to them short of the yard to gain.
Senior wide receiver Alan Bonner said his quarterback shouldn’t be so hard on himself. Bonner has high expectations, too, and he is equally frustrated by not being able to get plays executed the last couple of weeks. Ivory said they came into the season expecting more big plays between them.
They found themselves consoling each other at various points in last week’s game. Ivory went over to keep Bonner’s spirits up after the NCAA’s active punt return leader fumbled on the final play of the first quarter. Bonner found himself doing the same thing after Ivory threw behind him on a third-down slant late in the fourth quarter that gave the ball back to Murray’s explosive offense in a close game.
“We’ve got so many high expectations that we can do it every play and every possession, so Ques holds himself accountable as our quarterback and he takes it to extreme and puts it all on himself when he shouldn’t,” Bonner said. “There are 11 people on the offensive side of the ball. We all have to do our part.”
And that has been Crowe’s message this week as the Gamecocks turn to a November that will determine the success level of this team. UT Martin is tied for the league lead — a half-game ahead of JSU — and after what should be a Senior Day sashay with Austin Peay, they close the regular season at Florida.
Against that backdrop, Crowe is looking for a breakout game as much as his quarterback — from everybody.
“I don’t think we’ve played as good as we can play yet,” Crowe said. “I’m supposed to be directing it, but lately I’ve been waiting on this team to be consistent to play as good as we can play.
“I’m concerned this team may not achieve its due, which is really how capable they are, for a lack of ability to sustain focus from play to play. … We’re going to remember November and it’s November. It’s time to make a statement about who we are.”
Sports Writer Al Muskewitz: 256-235-3577. On Twitter @almusky_star.