Other options: JSU handles Davidson despite Wildcats playing keepaway

·6 min read

Sep. 3—MONTGOMERY — The numbers say Jacksonville State didn't win the Rich Rodriguez way Saturday.

The record says 2-0.

Turnovers and another big game from quarterback Zion Webb lifted the Gamecocks to a 35-17 victory over Davidson on Burgess-Snow Field.

JSU capitalized on two of three Davidson fumbles in the first half.

A week after he scored three rushing touchdowns for the first time in his collegiate career, Webb rushed for three more and passed for two.

It all went into the brew that helped JSU to overcome deficits in total plays, first downs and possession time ... three major indicators in Rodriguez's pace-offense program.

"I thought we got outcoached in certain areas," JSU's first-year head coach said. "I thought we got out physicaled in certain areas, but I don't want to apologize for a win. Our guys did what they had to do."

Davidson's option attack gobbled up time, but JSU wound up with more total yards (316-290) and "I'll Fly Away" with the Marching Southerners victoriously for the first time in Rodriguez's tenure.

They didn't get the chance to sing after JSU's 42-17 rout of Stephen F. Austin in the FCS Kickoff in Montgomery, thanks to a nearly two-hour weather delay that forced game officials to call the game at 13:55 of the fourth quarter.

"I was mumbling," Rodriguez said. "I didn't know the words, and you don't want to hear me sing anyway.

"It sounded good. The band is terrific. They're right on mark. Some of our guys were singing, and they were pretty good, but you don't want the staff singing. Trust me on that but we'll mumble with the best of them. We'll roll, rock and roll and weave."

1. RichRod's targets

This wasn't the day for JSU to reach Rodriguez's targets of 90 plays and 25 first downs. The Gamecocks finished with 51/16.

Some of it was short drives after Davidson turnovers. JSU had scoring drives of 19 and 26 yards in the first half.

Davidson also had two long scoring marches. Jayden Waddell's 25-yard touchdown pass to Mark McCurdy came at the end of a 13-play, 75-yard march, and Caden Bonoffski's 39-yard field goal followed an 18-play, 53-yard drive.

Davidson's two first-half scoring drives covered 31 plays and 17:17 in possession time. The Wildcats wound up with 42:10 in possession time, compared to 17:50 for JSU.

It's hard for JSU to run plays and get first downs when it doesn't have the ball.

"You worry about option teams, how many possessions you're going to have, if they're going to eat the clock up, if you start pressing things too much offensively," Rodriguez said. "All of that did happen, but there was no panic.

"It's just hard to stand on the sideline and watch them control it that way."

2. Webb's arm

Davidson came determined to stop the run, spreading as many as 11 defenders within seven yards of the line of scrimmage. Webb showed he can do it with his arm, passing for 136 of JSU's 173 total yards in the first half and two touchdowns.

"I think the other guys just wanted to challenge us," Webb said. "I like one-on-one matchups with our guys. I like our guys over anybody. It's just a matter of who's going to compete and who's going to win."

Webb was also JSU's best option in the running game, keeping for touchdown runs of three, seven and 20 yards to give him six rushing touchdowns in two games this season.

He was responsible for four touchdowns that gave JSU a 28-10 lead at halftime and finished with 213 total yards.

Webb is responsible for eight touchdowns in two games.

"It's just a blessing to be in this position that I'm in right now," Webb said. "I just keep taking it one day at a time, and the guy around me help me a lot.

"It's not solely on me. It's the team as a whole."

Webb had three passes tipped at the line of scrimmage, one resulting in linebacker Cam'ron Willis' interception. That led to Luke Durkin's 23-yard touchdown pass to Aaron Malone to bring Davidson within 28-17 at 5:44 of the third quarter.

Webb was the only quarterback to appear in the game for JSU. Aaron McLaughlin led a drive in the SFA game.

Rodriguez called Webb "QB1 right now."

"I wish we could've gotten Aaron in," Rodriguez said. "I would've loved to have gotten Te'Sean (Smoot) in, too. We've purposefully got to do that.

"This game was such a weird game, possession wise. It just seemed like we weren't getting many possessions, and Zion was seeing the field well."

3. Opportunistic defense

JSU's defense came up with three first-half turnovers, including two Stevonte Tullis fumble recoveries ... one when Davidson quarterback Luke Durkin dropped a snap on the Wildcats' first possession, and another after Chuck Taylor stripped the ball from Davidson running back Coy Williams.

Tullis became the first JSU player since Pierre Warren in 2011 to recover two fumbles in a game. He also finished with a career-high 14 tackles.

"The first one was just a blitz off the edge, and they fumbled the snap, and I just fell on it," Tullis siad. "The second one, I think my guy Chuck punched the ball out. I just fell on it."

J-Rock Swain recovered after Davidson punter Braden Cole dropped a snap at the end of the Wildcats' second possession.

JSU scored touchdowns after two of those three turnovers ... Webb's 31-yard touchdown pass to Sterling Galban at 10:30 of the first quarter and Webb's 21-yard touchdown pass to Pat Jackson in the second quarter.

The turnovers helped JSU's defense get through on a day when Davidson played keepaway and rolled up 233 rushing yards.

"I know that's all they did the whole game, but on our side of that, I think we can get better on the running game," said linebacker Markail Benton, who finished with 10 tackles. "We're going to have to play a triple-option team (Kennesaw State) later on in the season. We can fix that."

Sports Writer Joe Medley: 256-235-3576. On Twitter: @jmedley_star.