Although Jacksonville State plays in the FCS – the nation’s second tier of collegiate football – that doesn’t mean Michigan State’s opponents for their season opener Friday night at Spartan Stadium are someone that should be overlooked.
The Gamecocks run an up-tempo, high-octane offense that helped them to an 11-4 record a year ago. But to get an idea on just how fast paced they are, let’s take a look at their offense by the numbers last year.
- 240.3 rushing yards per game (48 rushing touchdowns)
- 202.2 passing yards per game
- 442.5 total yards per game
- 35.2 points per game
Nevertheless, though, all this taken into account, Michigan State should still be the odds on favorite to come away with victory for the game scheduled to kick off Friday night at 7:30 p.m ET. However, that’s not to say the Spartans will be taking their opponents lightly, and MSU head football coach Mark Dantonio, who coached at the FCS level for years, is a catalyst at just that.
“They play extremely competitively,” Dantonio said of Jacksonville State, bringing up the point that the Gamecocks defeated Ole Miss a few years back. “As I said to our players, they’re one play away, one day away from being in similar situations and moving their trade to another school…we expect a great football game, and they’ll be extremely competitive as they come, expecting to win.”
With the way that Dantonio has driven his team this off season, constantly telling his team to strive for more, all the while stressing the importance of handling success, it’s clear he’s confident in his team’s ability to be ready to play against the Gamecocks.
“This is a statement game,” Dantonio said. “If you can’t get excited about playing in Spartan Stadium on the first day of your senior year, junior year, freshman year, sophomore year, then maybe it just isn’t happening for you. If things don’t go right for us, it will not be because we have overlooked Jacksonville State, and I can promise you that.”
MSU senior linebacker Taiwan Jones, who will be making his first career start at the middle linebacker position on Friday, also validates the fact that the Spartans aren’t overlooking anyone.
“As Michigan State, we never overlook anybody because everybody every year pretty much makes us the underdog,” Jones said. “We’re just going continue to play every game like it’s the number one team in the nation. It doesn’t matter who comes in here.”
But what about that high powered Jacksonville State offense? Led by senior running back DaMarcus James, who ran for 1,540 yards and 29 touchdowns a year ago, along with duel quarterback Eli Jenkins, who ran for 1,053 yards and passed for another 857 last season, one can see how the Gamecocks could be a pesky counterpart. Add in the fact that Jacksonville State runs a two quarterback system with Max Shortell, and the Spartans will definitely be kept on their toes.
“Every week is going to be a different challenge and that’s something I’m willing to accept,” MSU junior cornerback Trae Waynes said. “They are a more fast paced offense. That’s how they’re similar to Indiana and Oregon…You just gotta stay focused and stay conditioned. It’s a mental aspect when it comes to that part and you really got to keep your head.”
As for stopping an tempo offense like JSU’s, MSU senior safety Kurtis Drummond says it all starts before the play even happens.
“First you gotta get lined up right,” Drummond said. “If you get lined up out of place, that’s what an up tempo team will try to do. Try to get you tired, try to get your technique bad, try to get you out of place. First thing you gotta do is get lined up right. Just know where your supposed to be and not get tired and not get mentally fatigued and just stay on your technique.”
At the end of the day, though, according to junior defensive end Shilique Calhoun, this Spartan defense which played so good a year ago, won’t necessarily change their defensive scheme to try and halt this Jacksonville State offense, but will rather be sticking to their guns.
“We play Spartan Dawg football,” Calhoun said. “We don’t change our system for anyone. We play the way that we play because it’s efficient. I would definitely say that they have a lot of talent. They do have a lot of talent on their offensive line, not only that, but in their backfield. We’re just going to come out and play the way that we play… and do it to the best of our abilities and that’s how we’ve been able to be as successful as we are because of how aggressive we are…Like I said, we’re not changing our system for anyone, but I do respect them for the talent they have.”