Clark’s Jacksonville State football team is coming off its first loss of the season, a 35-34 overtime setback to Murray State. The key question going forward is what are the Gamecocks (4-1, 0-1 OVC) going to do about it.
For all the good things they did in the game, the most enduring factor was their errors. They rallied from two 10-point deficits, compiled more than 600 yards of offense and held Murray to seven points in the second half. Yet, their downfall came as the result of four turnovers and numerous missed opportunities.
“We’ve got things to fix,” Clark said. “I don’t like teaching from a loss – I hate everything that goes with it – (but) sometimes that’s your best learning experience.
“Sometimes you learn more from the loss than the win because … it just magnifies every negative you have. You don’t go back and look at the good things; you just go back and look at the mistakes.”
All of them hurt, but among the most painful were Josh Barge fumbling into the end zone right before halftime and Max Shortell’s two interceptions in the fourth quarter.
And that doesn’t count the Griffin Thomas’ two missed field goals, the ball a wide-open Markis Merrill dropped just steps from the end zone for another possible touchdown or the lack of defensive energy to start the game.
In Shortell's estimation, the Gamecocks left "five or six touchdowns" on the field.
“There are only so many of these (games), you’d better bring you’re A-game early,” Clark said. “We’re not good enough to not do that. We’re not physically dominant.
“You can look at us on the hoof. I think every team we played is bigger than we are, but our guys run to the ball, get off the blocks, they play their butts off. ... Hopefully, they see at this level that’s how you’ve got to play it from the first second we get there.”
The teachable part is what happens next.
Clark said all the mistakes are correctable through awareness, as opposed to countless repetitive drills. Barge, for example, was heading to the end zone after making a catch along the sideline. He looked to cut inside and that’s when Murray's Brandon Wicks knocked the ball loose and sent it bounding into the end zone for a touchback.
“We hadn’t done that any,” Clark said. “I don’t care where you are, you don’t feel the guy behind you, it’s high and tight all the time. I think he’ll learn from that."
The first chance to see was Monday's heavy day at practice.
Running back Miles Jones said he expected an attentive group because with the loss "everybody got to see how they did not like the taste of that." Clark said he was pleased to see the players came out ready to work.
"The biggest thing I think we'll learn from this loss is how important the litters are that we do every day," receiver Dalton Screws said. "We do ball security (drills) every single day. We catch 100 balls every single day. Sometimes it's so easy when we're practicing so much to get complacent with the little things we do and don't take it as seriously as we should.
"This loss will help us take it seriously, doing it full speed and realizing there are only a few plays in the game that determine the outcome and not letting one of our mistakes beat us. That's what it did this week. You take those four turnovers away, throw up at least 21 points on the board, it's a totally different ballgame. We're not put in a situation in overtime like we were."
Al Muskewitz covers Jacksonville State sports for The Star. He can be reached at 256-235-3577.