Preview: JSU vs. Murray State
Despite being 4-0 and boasting the best record in the conference, Jacksonville State is still fighting for its first marquee win of the season.
The Gamecocks have victories over Alabama State from the SWAC, Jacksonville University from the Pioneer League, North Alabama from the Division II Gulf South Conference and Georgia State from the FBS Sun Belt Conference. None of those programs have winning records this season.
Murray State is 2-2 and the first Ohio Valley Conference for the Gamecocks this season. While the OVC has earned the reputation of being more concerned with basketball, JSU head coach Bill Clark believes the OVC has “put an emphasis on football” in recent years.
“I told our guys when I got here. We were one of the top teams in the league when we got here,” said Clark. “The bullseye has stayed on Jacksonville State and I think that’s probably rightfully so from previous success, especially early on. A lot of them have caught up.”
Senior offensive lineman Taylor Johnstone, who will be making his season debut Saturday, agreed. “It used to be just a couple of teams at the top and they would dominate each year. We’d always be in the mix,” said Johnstone. “Now you never know what you’re going to get. Every team has evolved so much and picked up their game in the football sense. Every week is just as important. There’s no dominant team anymore.”
Although a win over Murray State would be just another win over a program lacking a winning record, the Gamecocks are not downplaying the importance of starting off undefeated in the conference..
“We’ve got total respect for everybody in the league,” said Clark. “We say it’s a one game season every week now.”
Murray State has become known for its uptempo offense. That is a popular offense that several teams are trying to implement. The Racers have an advantage. Their coach, Chris Hatcher, is one of the pioneers of that offense.
“Go back to the late 90s with Kentucky and Hatcher being with those guys,” said Clark. This is a guy that was one of those first guys doing it.”
The Gamecocks may only have a week to prepare for Murray State, but they have been practicing against the uptempo offense since spring training.
“We’re going to have to run to the ball,” said Senior linebacker Rashad Smith. “We’re just going to have to keep on hitting them and braking them down mentally and physically.”