The Gamecocks can’t leave points on the table if they want to contend for a conference championship and their ultimate goal, a national title.
And if they want to be an up-tempo offense, they have to be ready to go when it comes time to play.
To that end, look for the head coach to have a greater presence around the offense this week as Gamecocks (1-0) prepare for their home opener against an opponent that promises to have plenty of it.
“There’s too much offense out there any time, too many people in two-minute offense all the time,” Clark said. “Our defense played good but give (an opponent) enough chances and they’ll hit some of them.
“If you understand the nature of offense and all those things you’ve got to take advantage of your chances, especially when we put them in situations we did.”
The Gamecocks beat Alabama State Saturday in the Clark’s debut 24-22, but the first play on offense was hit with a delay of game penalty. The Gamecocks knew for weeks what they were going to run, but the officials kept the clock going after a change of possession.
More egregious and potentially more damaging was not getting in the end zone at the end of the first half when they were inside the 5 and having the clock run out with a timeout in hand.
Shortell blamed himself for not getting into the end zone on the play before, and then lost his bearing trying to find a game clock that wasn’t in that end of ASU’s $62-million stadium. Damarcus James was stacked up in the middle on what was the final play of the half.
“We’ve got to be smarter than that,” Shortell said after the game. “We can’t leave points there like that.”
The Gamecocks made adjustments at halftime, overtook the lead behind Shortell and held on -- with linebacker Brent Tolson making two big defensive plays in the final minute to secure the win.
Part of the reason the defense played so well is Clark, South Alabama’s defensive coordinator the last five years, spent “a ton of time” with the unit in the two or three weeks before the opener. He’s planning to have greater presence around the offense this week looking for similar results.
The Gamecocks had 348 yards against a tough Alabama State defense, but only 108 yards rushing and were just 7 of 20 on third down (3 of 11 in the first half).
Clark isn't down on offensive coordinator John Grass, his former JSU roommate, or the other offensive assistants -- everyone just seems to pay more attention when the head man comes around. Grass declined a request for an interview.
“I don’t know if it’s just being the head coach or I have the loudest voice, but there was just a sense of urgency when I’d come down there,” Clark said. “I treat you in practice like I’d treat you in a game and when the game’s here you’ll be glad of it.
“It’s not easy to be like that, but that’s kind of how I’m wired. To get them to understand if you’re not urgent – I mean totally urgent – about this situation, it’ll come back to haunt you. We’re too good a league (to ignore it).”
Jacksonville University, this week’s opponent, isn’t OVC, but it is FCS and has the kind of offense that can leave the Gamecocks in the dust if they can’t keep up with the Dolphins’ firepower. JU jumped on Delaware 14-0 in the first quarter of its opener Thursday before eventually falling 51-35.
It all starts with quarterback Kade Bell, a redshirt sophomore following in the footsteps of his head coach/father Kerwin Bell, a former SEC Player of the Year as Florida’s quarterback. The younger Bell threw for 261 yards and four touchdowns against the Blue Hens.
The Gamecocks, meanwhile, will turn to Shortell this week. Redshirt freshman Eli Jenkins started the game and played silently through an early hand injury. Shortell was inserted in the sixth possession as a change of pace and played the rest of the game.
The Minnesota transfer led the Gamecocks to 24 third-quarter points. He finished the game 13 of 23 passing for 216 yards and two touchdowns for a top-20 QB rating of 155.41.
It was the fifth highest QBR by a quarterback making his JSU debut since 1995 and the second-highest QBR in a debut with more than 10 passes. On Monday he was named OVC Newcomer of the Week.
Al Muskewitz covers Jacksonville State sports for The Star. He can be reached at 256-235-3577.
JSU QB DEBUTS (since 1995)
QB Rating C-A-I-Yds-TD Opp
Thomas Darrah 383.60 3-3-0-62-1 2010 Austin Peay
Marques Ivory 242.17 5-7-0-103-1 2008 Alabama A&M
Coty Blanchard 201.42 9-13-0-126-2 2010 Ole Miss
Anthony Mayo 156.90 3-4-0-39-0 2001 Cumberland
Max Shortell 155.41 13-23-1-216-2 2013 Alabama St.
Cedric Johnson 129.80 5-10-0-95-0 2007 Memphis
Tim Gallahar 123.03 5-7-0-43-0 1999 Alabama A&M
Adam Pierce 122.67 6-9-0-60-0 2000 South Florida
x-Ryan Perrilloux 97.36 22-37-2-136-2 2008 Georgia Tech
x-Eli Jenkins 85.94 4-7-0-24-0 2013 Alabama St.
Montress Kirby 79.40 2-4-0-14-0 1995 Sam Houston
x-Reggie Stancil 75.71 8-19-0-76-0 1999 Alabama A&M
Matt Hardin 35.29 2-9-0-14-0 2004 Emporia St.
Maurice Mullins 39.70 1-4-0-7-0 2002 Miss. State