Statements are made every day on the football field. They can be as small as getting off a block at the right time or as big as winning the Rose Bowl.
Head Coach Mark Dantonio wanted to make one thing clear when he addressed the media during his weekly media news conference last Monday — the Spartans want to make a statement on the opening night of college football against FCS opponent Jacksonville State.
Maybe not Rose Bowl loud, but he wants people to know that while the Spartans aren’t going away, they don’t feel like they are entitled to anything.
“This is a statement game,” Dantonio said. “If you can’t get excited about playing under the lights in Spartan Stadium, then it’s just not happening for you.”
The elephant in the room is the week two opponent. After playing Jacksonville State, the Spartans will head west to play Oregon in Eugene. That game will likely have playoff implications, whereas the game against Jacksonville State likely will not.
“It is (hard to not look ahead) but I’ve seen big schools lose to little schools because they overlooked them,” senior running back Jeremy Langford said.
“Coach D says all the time not to overlook your competition.”
The MSU defense can be forgiven if they have Oregon on the mind, the Ducks and the Gamecocks run a very similar offense in style and pace. Senior linebacker Taiwan Jones said playing teams with such similar styles can only help the Spartans.
“It is beneficial, both games are going to be good games and we know what we have to do against Jacksonville State,” he said. “Control the tempo and not let it bother us too much. Same thing next week. We’re taking it one game at a time, anything we see this week we’ll use for next week.”
It’s an old football analogy — “if you have two quarterbacks, you don’t have any quarterbacks.”
The Gamecocks would like to kindly disagree with that assessment.
In a position that seems to demand stability more so than any in another sport, Jacksonville State plays two quaterbacks almost equally and was able to win 11 games last season.
Eli Jenkins, the first starting quarterback for the Gamecocks, is a redshirt sophomore from Birmingham, Ala. who threw for 887 yards and ran for 953 yards last season.
The other quarterback is former Minnesota player Max Shortell, a 6-foot-6 senior from Kansas who was a second team All-OVC player last season.
“I think when Shortell is in there, they’re a little more like a traditional passing team, maybe more like Indiana in some regards,” he said. “They’re going to spread you out horizontally and vertically, it’s going to be quick.”
A few members of the MSU defense said they didn’t care about playing against two quarterbacks, and the help of the coaches has made it possible for them to adjust.
“I don’t think it’s weird to play against two quarterbacks because of what Coach Narduzzi does to prepare us for that,” senior safety Kurtis Drummond said. “It really comes from film study and trying to understand which quarterback does what best. Having two quarterbacks just prepares you for more.”
Jones said in the past he’s played against teams that use two quarterbacks and doesn’t think it will affect what MSU is trying to do on defense.
“It’s not really weird; it’s just different,” he said. “You just have to know what both quarterbacks bring to the table.”
Go, Go, Go
When Jacksonville State quarterback Jenkins is in the game, Dantonio and other defensive players have said the Gamecocks run an offense that is very similar to Ohio State’s offense last season led by Braxton Miller. Last season in the Big Ten championship game, Ohio State’s offense put up 378 yards against MSU. Despite the defense not always containing the Buckeyes, a fast offense does not scare junior defensive end Shilique Calhoun.
“I can see getting six people to the ball being tedious but I don’t think it’ll be that hard,” he said. “We want to make those big hits and someone goes down, they have to sub and we can be lining up again. It’ll be a challenge but we aren’t changing the way we play for anyone.”
The outside running and speed game of Jacksonville State is something that Calhoun said he would prefer not to face, but he knows it’s a necessary part of the game.
“It just one of those things where you have to give effort,” he said. “You’re not always going to like everything on the football field but you kind of just have to suck it up and play to the best of your abilities.”
The takeaway from both Calhoun and Dantonio is pretty simple — it’s time to start hitting other people, and both are very excited about it.
“I can’t wait, honestly,” Calhoun said. “It’s good to go up against different guys.”
Dantonio spoke about the relief that accompanies the end of camp in his weekly press conference on Tuesday.
“Certainly it becomes a grind, as you go through camp, and you have anywhere between 22 and 27, 28 practices before you hit your first game,” he said. “We’re ready to play a football game. I think every team in America is right now.”