The junior transfer from Minnesota came off the bench early in the second quarter Saturday and managed the offense the rest of the game. The Gamecocks went on to beat Alabama State 24-22, making head coach Bill Clark’s first game as a FCS head coach a success.
“We’ve got another guy in the lead for now,” Clark said Sunday. “That’s what happens when one guy gets his chance and it doesn’t work out for whatever reason.
“That’s exactly what we’ve said the whole time. When it doesn’t turn around, the other guy gets his chance. (Shortell) is in the lead right now and we’ll see what happens.”
Athletic redshirt freshman Eli Jenkins started the game and played the first five possessions. The Gamecocks produced only 62 yards of offense during those series, but there were several plays the film showed were just on the edge of turning out. That Jenkins hurt his left hand on the second play of the game didn’t help any effectiveness pitching to that side.
Shortell came in with 11:17 left in the second quarter to change the pace. He almost got the Gamecocks in the end zone at the end of the half before the clock ran out on them and led them to 24 points in the third quarter.
He completed 13 of 23 passes for 216 yards and two touchdowns for a QB rating of 155.4. His scoring strikes to true freshman Anthony Johnson and Telvin Brown covered 23 and 45 yards, respectively, and came in a span of 66 seconds.
The only blemishes on his debut were missing that chance to score at the end of the half and an interception over the middle from deep in his own end that led to the first of ASU's two fourth-quarter touchdowns. Clark took part of the blame for the interception, saying the Gamecocks considered calling a run and then punting, but he decided to “take a shot.”
Even in making the change Clark remains confident in Jenkins, as well as the Gamecocks’ third quarterback, Kyle West.
“Everything we saw on (Jenkins) wasn’t as bad as we thought but little subtle things,” Clark said. “Take away Max’ interception and he had a great game.”
After the game, Shortell wouldn’t speculate what his relief appearance might mean for the week of the home opener with Jacksonville University (0-1). One could sense, though, he was prepared to grab the chance with both hands.
“We’ll see how it goes,” he said. “Like I said, you have to trust in the coaches. They saw what they wanted to see tonight. They knew I could come in off a back-up role, which I hate doing – I want to be the guy – but we pulled out the win.”
In reviewing the film Clark saw a little bit of everything. There were some things “not as bad as we thought” but some minute details that made a perfectionist like Clark “sick.” He said he “still can’t figure out” the delay of game penalty on the Gamecocks’ first offensive snap of the season that followed a change of possession.
The defense kept the Gamecocks in the game while the offense was trying to find itself and made two consecutive stops after ASU got within two points with fewer than eight minutes to play. Brent Tolson sealed the win with an interception in the final minute.
The offense’s continuity was impacted by several last-minute setbacks. Senior tight end Gavin Ellis came out with a boot on his left leg to protect a strained ligament and tackle Taylor Johnstone, arguably the Gamecocks’ best offensive lineman, was held out because of a late-developing academic issue. The Gamecocks already were missing third tight end Jerry Slota and Gabe Chambers, their most experienced receiver, was helped off after a third-quarter kick return.
Johnstone could be cleared to return this week, officials said. Clark is hopeful of getting all his walking wounded back this week as well.
“I’m pleased we found a way to win and that’s the difference,” Clark said. “Do you find a way when you have adversity? That’s the ultimate judge.”
Al Muskewitz covers Jacksonville State sports for The Star. He can be reached at 256-235-3577.