Between the 20s on both sides of the football and through the first three quarters of games, Jackson State has arguably been one of best teams in the SWAC, according to the numbers.
But fourth quarter offensive ineffectiveness, the inability to consistently score in the red zone, and a defense unable to get off the field on third down has landed Jackson State (3-4, 1-3) in third place in the SWAC East.
On Monday, first-year head coach Harold Jackson was perplexed at his team’s disturbing trend of being unable to finish games in the second half after jump out to seemingly comfortable leads.
In the first quarter this season, JSU has outscored their opponents by 10 points. In the second, they’re plus-8. By the third, that number shoots up to a robust plus-11.
However, the fourth quarter has been a different story for the Tigers. As great as they’ve been in quarters one through three, JSU had been outscored by 20 points in the final stanza – something that his led to losses to then winless Prairie View, Grambling State and Mississippi Valley State home.
The season opener against Florida A&M, a game that JSU had control of most of the night, was nearly a loss after the Tigers gave up a late touchdown before winning on a last-second Hail Mary as time expired. Two weeks ago against Arkansas Pine-Bluff, JSU led by double-digits early. They needed overtime to pull out a victory.
A couple of contributing factors immediately stand out as to why JSU has struggled so much in games even though they’ve dominated the box score in several of them.
The offense, led by redshirt sophomore LaMontiez Ivy, is No. 1 in the SWAC in passing and passer efficiency rating. That’s great for a unit working under first-year offense coordinator Timmy Chang’s run-and-shoot attack.
Once JSU gets down inside the red zone, though, the offense bogs down considerably. The offense’s red zone touchdown percentage is only 36 percent, not good for a team that finds themselves in so many close games.
Against FAMU, JSU was just 1-for-5 in the red zone. Chang vowed to make adjustments. But the offense, for whatever reasons, has only scored eight touchdowns in the red zone since Week 1.
The running game or (lack there of) has hampered JSU’s ability to score in the red zone and put teams away in the second half by extending drives and wearing down defenses, as JSU ranks last in that category.
The type of scheme JSU runs has history of not being effective in tallying large numbers on the ground, although Chang has emphasized it more in recently, including 43 times against Prairie View and 29 times against Mississippi Valley State.
The offense’s troubles in scoring touchdowns or sustaining drives has ultimately forced the defense to hold slim leads.
Although the JSU defense is No. 3 in total defense and No. 2 in passing and rushing defense, that unit, like the offense, has trouble in the red zone to the tune of a 71 percent touchdown rate.
Being just average in the red zone on both offense and defense probably would see JSU realistically challenging for the division lead.
Penalties (56 in total) have also contributed to Jackson State’s inconsistencies, although Grambling — with their 72 — leads the league and are in first place in the SWAC West. JSU simply has not been able to overcome their mistakes like other teams this season.
Not to mention a couple of missed assignments on defense in late-game situations have led to scores when one stop could have sealed victory.
These issues that have plagued JSU are correctable, though. Dan Williams has emerged as big-play receiver who can be an effective target in the red zone. Even though the defense has not been good on third down ranking No. 9, they’re No. 2 in sacks.
The potential is there in many respects to salvage the season. Jackson talked about simplifying the playbook to increase better results.
The bottom line is, in seven tries, Jackson State has yet to put together four quarters of consistent football. If they’re unable to correct that coming off a bye, the season could be a lost one.