JSU football: Blowout win allows defensive reserves a chance to shine

Sep. 2—JACKSONVILLE — Rich Rodriguez's goal this season is to play as many players as possible. Jacksonville State's blowout win over East Tennessee State, which provided many opportunities for younger players, certainly gave the longtime coach confidence in his plan.

In JSU's 49-3 win over the Bucs, 30 defensive players got a chance to play for the Gamecocks, many getting extended snaps because of the lopsided score.

Jeremiah Harris, Laletia Hale, Fred Perry and Curley Young Jr. each finished with at least five total tackles and the Gamecocks finished with two interceptions. One pick came from Kekoura Tarnue returned for 12 yards and another from Jalen Bustamante returned for 18 yards.

For Hale, who totaled six tackles, one of the biggest reasons for his enjoyable day was seeing his teammates find ways to contribute.

"It was pretty fun, especially seeing more guys get to play because our goal is to play as many people as possible," Hale said. "It was a good opportunity to continue to execute on defense and it was good to see a lot more points on the board from the offense with them getting things clicking."

Among the exciting moments created by the defense was a fumble recovery from Tuscaloosa native Xavier Morrow following a sack from Cam Williams.

"He ended up getting the fumble recovery," Hale said. "That was pretty good, because that was his first time playing his game. To see him being relentless was well-deserved."

Jacksonville State coach Rich Rodrigiez said that among the things he was impressed with was the Gamecocks' third-down defensive effort.

"We're really good on third-down defense, create some turnovers and get some pressure on the quarterback," Rodriguez said. "We missed a couple tackles for sacks, but for the most part we tackled pretty well."

Rodriguez said that he was also encouraged by how the defense adjusted to the unknowns of ESTU's offensive scheme.

"Our defensive guys do a really good job of adjusting," Rodriguez said. "We didn't know what they were going to do for sure. In pregame, I think they were doing triple option stuff just to mess with us. I think at the beginning of the game they did what they had been doing, and then our defensive coaches made some adjustments throughout the game."

One of the bright spots on the team's defensive line in JSU's first two games has been Jeff Marks, who finished with four total tackles (one solo), half a sack and a fumble recovery against ETSU.

Rodriguez said he's been impressed by the Purdue transfer, adding that he feels "pretty confident with him as a starter."

"He's played really well," Rodriguez said. "We thought when we got him last year, he was going to be a pretty good player, but he got here like the day before camp started. It took him a month and a half to get in shape. He's had a really good camp, he's in shape, and we're going to need that moving forward.

Rodriguez said that while he couldn't judge the defense's depth in Saturday's blowout win, he was encouraged by the number of younger players who got some playing time.

"I thought after watching the last game, we've got some depth at some positions but not at all positions," Rodriguez said. "That's still a concern that we're not as deep as a true Division 1-A will be, or as big or as fast, but they'll play hard and they'll make up for some of it."

Sports Writer Thomas Ashworth: 256-236-1551. On Twitter: @ThomasAshworth0.