The Gamecocks exploited the things they believed were there.
They chose to throw on run downs and hit several deep balls early — including their first play — that allowed them to jump on top and stay there. Max Shortell played the whole game at quarterback and threw for at least 200 yards for the fourth time in five games. He also ran for a fourth-down conversion at a key point in the game. Josh Barge had his second 100-yard receiving game and DaMarcus James rushed for 184 yards and scored three touchdowns for the third game in a row.
The Gamecocks got back to the heart of their defensive success, winning their gaps.
They held the Skyhawks to 123 rushing yards and Ohio Valley Conference leader D.J. McNeil to 60. The Skyhawks passed for 370 yards, but JSU coach Bill Clark was pleased with the pass rush. Dylan Favre threw for 290 yards, but the Gamecocks sacked him three times.
The Gamecocks were solid enough here. Griffin Thomas, who missed two field goal attempts the week before, nailed both of his attempts Saturday, including one he got a second chance on after a penalty.
Hamish MacInnes averaged 40.5 yards on his punts and even though the Skyhawks returned his worst punt inside the JSU 10, the Gamecocks weren’t hurt by it as a horrible snap cost the Skyhawks a chance at a touchdown.
The Gamecocks showed they’re not afraid to shake things up.
In the first quarter offensive coordinator John Grass pulled out a flea-flicker that went for a 36-yard touchdown and early in the fourth quarter head coach Bill Clark went for it on fourth-and-seven from just outside the UTM 35 in a tight game and quarterback Max Shortell created a 19-yard gain to move the chains.
In the overall scheme, they crossed up the Skyhawks by putting out personnel groupings that showed run and went to the pass.
The Gamecocks earned a much-needed win through a combination of guile and execution. They had a lot going against them Saturday — they were on the road, it was UT-Martin’s homecoming, the Skyhawks were riding some big FCS wins and the Gamecocks were coming off a loss.
If JSU had lost another, even this early in the season, it would have basically ruined their chances of contending for the OVC title and an NCAA playoff bid. Now, they’re still alive on both counts.