Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Will Jacksonville State's Offense Be Unstoppable In 2011?

With the addition of Washaun Ealey, one wonders if the Gamecocks' offense will be unstoppable in 2011. To put it in context, understand what Ealey brings to the table. He was Georgia's best running back over the last two seasons averaging almost 5 and 1/2 yards per carry in two seasons of heavy work. If Ealey averaged 5.4 yards per carry in the toughest defensive conference in the nation, isn't it reasonable to assume he could average over six in the OVC?

Of course, Ealey can't do it alone, but he won't have to. Even before Ealey arrived, the Gamecocks were loaded at running back starting with former Mr. Mississippi football Darius "Tig" Barksdale. Barksdale is listed as a sophmore on the depth chart, but is twenty one years old and physically ready to play. Barksdale only averaged four yards per carry last year but he should dramatically improve this year for at least four reasons: 1) he was slowed all season by nagging injuries; 2) prior to leaving Ole Miss he was playing safety and had to get reacclimated to the running back spot; 3) Barksdale did not join JSU until a few weeks before the season, limiting what he could do; and 4) his yards per carry may have been limited as he was frequently used in short yardage situations.

Its not just speculation that Barksdale could dramatically improve. Early in the playoff loss last year Wofford could not stop him, unfortunately a stomach bug did. After gashing the Terriers for several big gains, Barksdale didn't return for almost two quarters.

But, there is more. The Gamecocks are so loaded at running back that they have moved one of the best running backs in the OVC, Calvin Middleton, to fullback. Middleton, a senior, knows the playbook inside and out and had the potential to go for 1,000 yards last year until being slowed by a turf toe like injury in the middle of the season. Finally, while it sounds like hyperbole, Middleton himself and one other Gamecock insider have told us that Richard Freelon could be one of the best running backs to ever play for the Gamecocks and the signing of incoming freshman Coot James may have been the coup of an already great signing class.

Of course, defenses can always load the box to stop the run. This is where the Gamecocks' experience in the passing game should pay dividends. Marques Ivory is a senior quarterback that rarely makes mistakes, with an explosive backup in Coty Blanchard. If opposing defenses move their safeties up to stop the run, it seem like the Gamecocks have several targets that can stretch the field, including veterans James Shaw and Alan Bonner, plus newcomers Country Chambers and Trey Smith. Country, Coty Blanchard's high school teammate and Marcus Dupree's cousin, brings a big time speed element to the Gamecock receiving corps. In contrast, Smith, who had over 100 yards receiving in the Spring game, gives Ivory a huge target at six feet five inches tall.

Need some rain on the parade? JSU's offense might only be as good as the offensive line and they lost three valuable players in Curt Porter, Justin Kay and Tyler Ogletree. The return of Matt Jones will help (to go along with returning starters Odie Rush and Tori Mobley), but the Gamecocks must find a couple of more linemen. There are a bevy of candidates, but the time is now for one of those untested newcomers to step up.

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