Jenkins Lifts White Team Over Red Team In J-Day Game
JACKSONVILLE — The offense entered Saturday having only scored three touchdowns in scrimmages all spring.
Redshirt-sophomore quarterback Eli Jenkins wasted no time finding the end zone in Saturday’s annual J-Day game. He helped the White Team match its spring touchdown total in the first half alone, including a 35-yard touchdown pass to Anthony Johnson on his first play.
That was enough to send the White Team, composed of the first string offense and second string defense, home with bragging rights after a 21-6 win.
“Me and my coaches, there were some plays we wanted to do,” Jenkins said. “That’s the play I put down. Coach had the confidence to run it and we scored. I didn’t think he was going to call it. It was actually the same play I scored on last year in the spring game. I felt comfortable with the play. He did too so we ran it. It was a good ball and a better catch.”
Jenkins had to listen to people talk about how much further along the defense looked compared to the offense all spring. But, he only wanted to prove one person wrong on Saturday: senior cornerback Rashod Byers.
“Byers has been talking mad noise to me,” Jenkins said teasingly. “He’s been talking mad noise for like two weeks now so I knew I was going at him first play. I’m happy he didn’t pick it off.”
Jenkins completed 6-of-11 passes for 117 yards and two touchdowns. His second touchdown came on a dump pass to Miles Jones at the 11-yard line. The White offense’s other touchdown came on a 3-yard run by Jones, who led all rushers with 57-yards.
“(Jenkins) is just so much further ahead than where he was last year,” first year head coach John Grass said. “What a difference a year and experience makes. He is just commanding the offense, knows where to go with the ball, just has an understanding of what we’re doing offensively. Last year, he didn’t have a clue. He grew up as the year went on last year and kind of got on a roll at the end. It just shows you cannot replace game experience.”
“In his progression as a quarterback, he has grown a lot. I am very pleased with him.”
Jenkins was not perfect on the day. He threw an interception to Red Team cornerback Lekendrick James. But, a strong showing by the White Team defense held the Red offense out of the end zone all game.
“I thought our second defense (White defense) had a lot of energy,” co-defensive coordinator David Blackwell said, who coached the Red Team. “They looked like they were having fun playing. There was a lot more energy on their sideline than our sideline.”
The White Defense forced four interceptions and four sacks. Patrick Parks managed two picks, Dawson Wells caught one and Camero Callier grabbed the other. Zac Heard finished with two sacks while Darius Jackson and Eric Butler each had one.
“In all honesty, it’s great,” senior linebacker Omari Jones said. “You could tell the White Squad had a lot of momentum throughout the game. They were bouncing around having fun. The turnovers were bringing the offense life, they were kind of working off each other. Overall, I think they had a better game. That’s why they took the win.”
Jones played on the Red defense. Although they left the field with a loss, they did managed three sacks and were able to “settle in” and hold the White offense scoreless from 9:49 remaining in the second quarter until the end of the game. LaMichael Fanning managed two of those sacks.
“That first play, it kind of rattled us,” Jones said. “After a while, people got settled in and got more comfortable. I feel like with the comfort, everybody just settled in and tried to make more plays.”
The only points the Red offense managed came off the foot of redshirt-freshman kicker Connor Rouleau. He missed a 47-yard attempt but finished 2-for-3 with his two makes coming on kicks from 26 and 25 yards away. Pulling double duty, made all of the White offense’s point-after attempts. That performance was enough to impress Grass.
“One of the positives tonight was Rouleau’s kicking,” Grass said. “The first week of practice, I don’t know that we made a field goal. I don’t know if we made half out PATs. To fill the void of Griffin Thomas is a huge void. Of all the seniors we lost, that’s the biggest hole we have on our football team. That was a big question mark this spring.”
Last week’s injury to Telvin Brown on a punt return left the coaching staff weary of special team injuries. They blew kickoff and punt returns dead before contact could be made Saturday. Even so, Redshirt sophomore Josh Barge put on a display of return ability when he ran around the coverage team for a 23-yard punt return.
“We may have found another returner in Barge,” Grass said. “He didn’t get to do that any last year. He’s elusive. He’ll make folks miss, fields the ball well. He did a good job of that tonight. He may be the best we’ve right now. We’ll definitely continue to work him there.”
The Gamecocks now enter the voluntary workout period. The date they will report to fall camp has not been released. They will face Michigan State in the season-opener in East Lansing, on August 29.