In virtually every instance this season, the Gamecocks have given it to bullish back DaMarcus James on a direct snap, and most of the time, the junior has gotten it into the end zone.
Over the last couple weeks, however, it hasn’t been a 100-percent lock. McNeese State and Southeast Missouri both denied James on multiple snaps of the special play.
Of course, teams have had 15 weeks to scout it, so they should have an idea of what’s coming. But even with that — the scouting and some recent stops — JSU coach Bill Clark has no plans to scrap the effective play at this stage in the game.
So, if the Gamecocks (11-3) are knocking on the door in today’s FCS quarterfinal at No. 3 Eastern Washington (11-2), you can expect James to get the call. If not, he’ll be one heck of a decoy.
“There’s that question — what is a tendency?” Clark said. “People create tendencies because things work. We had it stopped at SEMO, but we’ve got a lot of other parts to that package.
“I think it’s probably batting 99 percent so we’ll keep doing it. I think they know we’re going to keep doing it, but we’ve got some wrinkles to it that we really haven’t shown yet.”
James has said on numerous occasions this year when the coaches call his number, “I’ve got to do what I’ve got to do.”
More times than not, he has delivered. Eighteen of his school-record 28 rushing touchdowns this year have come from inside 3 yards. Since coming out of the Gamecocks’ open date, James has gotten the call on short yardage — fewer than 3 yards — 35 times. He has either gotten a first down or scored a touchdown 23 times.
His touchdowns have accounted for only 208 of his single-season school-record 1,431 rushing yards.
But lately opponents have caught on. In the regular-season finale, Southeast Missouri stopped him four times outside the 20 when the Gamecocks needed two yards to gain. He still rushed for 206 yards and scored three times in the game. Last week, McNeese State stopped him three straight times at the 1 before he finally bent over backward to get in on fourth down.
“We took a ball outside we shouldn’t have from the inch line, but a lot of that stuff we leave up to DaMarcus, believe it or not,” Clark said. “He knows what we’re looking for. He’s looking at numbers.
“You’ve noticed us doing some shifting and stuff lately, so we have some other parts of that package we really haven’t shown.”
Whatever the Gamecocks will show deep in the red zone, Eastern Washington coach Beau Baldwin knows they will be tough to stop.
The Gamecocks have scored on 58 of 65 trips into the red zone — which ranks seventh nationally — with 42 touchdowns. The Eagles have given up 23 rushing touchdowns this season.
“It’s still a challenge to stop it,” Baldwin said. “Whether it’s a direct snap or one to the quarterback and he hands off to the running back, when you get inside the 2 or 3, you definitely have a good idea where it’s going. I know you can have gadget wrinkles off that, but it’s a mindset. You know it’s coming, but you still got to stop it.
“Ultimately, certain guys just have a knack for the end zone, and (James) is just one of those guys who find a way in.”
Al Muskewitz covers Jacksonville State sports for The Star. He can be reached at 256-235-3577.