The approach the Jacksonville State defense used last game has little in common with what the Gamecocks need to do this week.

“The playbook we had last week is thrown in the trash,” said Jacksonville State linebacker Markail Benton. “We got a whole different playbook for this week to prepare for this team. It’s the triple option; it’s a lot different from lining up against the spread.”

Jacksonville State has previous experience against the option this season after playing Davidson in the second game of the season. The Gamecocks won that game, 35-17, while doing a credible job against the Wildcats offense. Davidson rushed for 233 yards on 67 carries, which is 3.5 yards per carry, and did not have a rushing touchdown. Davidson, who is the nation’s leader in team rushing per game, averages 362.2 yards per game and 6.01 yards per carry. In the other three games they’ve played, the Wildcats have 15 rushing touchdowns.

Those lofty numbers suggest that Jacksonville State won’t face a better option attack than the Wildcats. Jacksonville State head coach Rich Rodriguez suggests otherwise.

“We didn’t particularly play that well against Davidson,” Rodriguez said. “We had some missed assignments, and they did a good job. We’ve got to play a whole lot better. [Kennesaw does] some similar stuff but they’re a little bit more athletic than Davidson. They’ll challenge you a little bit more with some formations and things. We’ve got to shore that up a little bit and have a couple of plans ready, in case we’re struggling like we did against Davidson.”

Kennesaw State is annually one of the better rushing attacks in FCS. A year ago, Kennesaw State rushed for 343 yards on 68 carries with four rushing touchdowns in a 31-6 win over visiting Jacksonville State. The Owls threw just six passes in the game.

This season, though, the running game has not clicked as well as in the past for the Owls. Through three games, the Owls are rushing for 185.3 yards per game, which is 23rd in the country, with seven rushing touchdowns.

Rodriguez said one of the challenges of facing any option attack is having quality practice sessions. Option attacks use cut blocking on the interior and generally play quickly because of the day-after-day, week-after-week repetitions in practices. Simulating those things with the scout team is not easy.

“How do you get your scout team to simulate what they do, especially cutting up front?” Rodriguez said. “You can’t cut on the perimeter now, but you can cut on the interior. We don’t cut. Getting our scout team players to learn how to do that, to be able to do that in practice, without hurting your own guys. That’s the challenge, not just the scheme part of it but the technique part of it up front. It’s a challenge (also), trying to get our offensive scout team guys to play at the same speed. You can simulate the plays and draw cards up and they follow the cards. But, will they do the cards as fast as Kennesaw will do it? No. So, we’ve really got to be able to get our guys ready for that.”

Learning to be disciplined in assignments is also critical against the option.

“Everybody has to do their job, all eleven on the field,” Benton said. “I just focus on doing my job and make sure I do my job the best way I can.”

Rodriguez said one way to get accustomed to playing the correct assignment is to use two footballs on offense. One football is given to the fullback up the middle, while the other football carried to the outside for either a quarterback run or a pitch to the running back. The objective is to be in position to stop both options. Rodriguez also said a common approach in practice is for the scout offense to run the plays with no football. That keeps the defenders focused on doing their assignment, instead of chasing the football.

“We do a lot of work defensively this week to make sure our guys have great eye discipline and follow the plan, so to speak,” Rodriguez said.

Even with all the work, it will take time to adjust on Saturday.

“You get a whole week to kind of prepare,” Rodriguez said. “But the biggest difference, I guess, is the speed which you are going to see it on Saturday is a lot different than practice.”

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