JSU football: The weather heats up, and that's fine with Rich Rod for first scrimmage

·5 min read

Aug. 6—JACKSONVILLE — Rich Rodriguez put the heat on his Jacksonville State football team Saturday in the season's first scrimmage.

That isn't just a turn of phrase. After practicing all preseason at 8-10 a.m., Rodriguez scheduled Saturday's practice for 9 a.m. The Gamecocks did drills and special teams work before scrimmaging from 9:30-11 a.m. They worked out on the practice field, complete with a full set of game officials.

Temperatures were in the mid-80s, and as the scrimmage wore on, it felt hotter.

"I wanted to be a little warmer, because when we go in the morning, it's been so pleasant," he said. "We went with uptempo stuff on both sides of the ball, and we were kind of wallowing around like a tub of goo for parts of the practice. So, we've got to get that fixed."

Rodriguez seemed to get truly upset only twice in the scrimmage: once when a couple of players tussled for a few moments after the whistle, and once late in the scrimmage when the offense was inside the 10 but took so long to get the play started, it drew a flag for delay of game.

"It's got to be part of our DNA," Rodriguez said. "Part of it is our skill guys aren't looking back at our signal guys soon enough. Our O-line is not getting lined up on the ball soon enough. Just that sense of urgency. ... We've got to get that corrected in a hurry."

The desire to get used to the heat wasn't lost on the players. With the offense on the sideline closest to the gate and the defense on the other sideline, both sides were telling their guys, "Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate!"

"We're trying to get used to the heat and playing in the heat," safety Jeremiah Harris said. "The first game could be very hot, so we've got to go out, hydrate, fly around and get used to the heat."

In the first six series Saturday, the first defense went against the first offense twice, the second teams went against each other, and the remaining reserves faced off. Redshirt freshman Aaron McLaughlin, an N.C. State transfer, ran the first team, redshirt senior Zion Webb the second team, and true freshman Te'Sean Smoot the third squad.

After that, McLaughlin worked some with the second team, while Webb worked a bit with the first team, and Smoot quarterbacked all three teams at various times. JSU worked different combinations at other positions, too.

The first-team line was notable for having two former local high school standouts at the tackle spots: Clay Webb of Oxford and Will O'Steen of White Plains. Zack Cangelosi was at center, and Cam Hill and Treylen Brown were at guard.

However, first-, second- or third-team status is all temporary at this point, as Rodriguez said he and his coaches are still evaluating, and a depth chart hasn't been established ahead of the Sept. 27 opener against Stephen F. Austin. He said he would like to have a general number of players who are a constant part of the playing rotation.

"I'm not sure we've gotten down to our 25 on each side of the ball," Rodriguez said. "We've still got to evaluate that. Scheme-wise, we're right on point where we need to be. We actually cut some stuff down and are actually looking at stuff we'll want to do in the first game. That part of it I'm pleased with. Our depth chart, and our special teams, we've got a lot to work to do there."

That might be especially true of the quarterback rankings. Webb was hamstrung by being ill, although he still participated in the scrimmage.

"He's had a cold," Rodriguez said. "He's been a little bit under the weather the last couple of days. He started off OK, but as it went on, he had a hard time with that. But he's still finishing up some classes. I don't think he's getting enough sleep and eating enough. I tell him that he needs to take care of his body like an elite athlete, and going forward, I think he will."

So, who won, the offense or defense? The offense managed four touchdowns in full-field work, but none came when the full first-team defense was on the field.

Webb found La'Derrick Bell of Saks and Terrell Carmichael for completions, setting up Reggion Bennett's touchdown run. Smoot completed a long pass to Brayden Hill, which allowed Anwar Lewis to score on a 1-yard run.

Ron Wiggins broke free for a touchdown run, and when JSU had a collection of third-team reserves on the field, Ashton Frye of Springville completed a touchdown pass to a wide-open Peyton Otte in the end zone.

Perhaps the most entertaining play when the two first teams faced off came when McLaughlin completed a deep ball to Texas Tech transfer Sterling Galban, who appeared to be racing for a touchdown. Safety Jeremiah Harris dove and caught him by the foot to bring him down.

JSU spent about the final 30 minutes of the scrimmage working on overtime, with the ball set at the 25-yard line, and the offense must score or lose the game. More touchdowns came in that setup, including a 25-yard run by Matt LaRoche and a touchdown pass from former Arizona quarterback Jordan "Polo" Solomon to Wiggins.

Rodriguez plans to be off Sunday as a recovery day following the scrimmage. The Gamecocks will return to the field Monday morning.

Senior Editor Mark Edwards: 256-235-3570. On Twitter: @MarkSportsStar.