Wednesday, September 19, 2007

SPORTS >>Red Devils hoping for more focus

Leader sports editor

Jacksonville has no time left to fix the problems that plagued them in the first three weeks of the season. The Red Devils lost mercy-rule shutouts in two of the first three games, but they were non-conference games, which have no bearing on a team’s playoff hopes.

This week, working out kinks in non-conference is not an option; things have to be fixed because the Devils are embarking on perhaps the most difficult road trip in the state to Mountain Home.

After weeks one and two, a loss to Cabot and a win over North Pulaski, Jacksonville coach Mark Whatley felt the biggest area of concern was his team’s tendency to step outside of the things it worked on and prepared for.

He felt that got better last week, despite a 36-0 loss to Lake Hamilton. The new concern is focus.

“You have to be ready mentally as well as physically, and I think there’s been a lack of mental preparation prior to the football game,” Whatley said. “They practice hard and they’re ready to go physically, but the mental preparation is not there. In this classification, you have to have both if you want to succeed.”

Dropped passes were commonplace last week, as were off-sides and motion penalties. The most glaring problem from last Friday was motion penalties. The Red Devils were called for three on one set of downs after reaching the Lake Hamilton 6-yard line. There was also an off-sides penalty on the defense on a crucial third down for Lake Hamilton. Those are all things that Whatley believes comes down to focus.

“I thought the offense executed pretty well some of the time. It would have been a lot better if we’d catch the ball. I think the line did a good job, gave us time, we’re just not catching the ball, not lining up, just being lazy.”

Focus will have to be there Friday. Mountain Home runs a wishbone offense that requires discipline to defend. They’ve also shown some spread this year, but Whatley is concentrating on stopping the wishbone.

“They show you a little spread and they give you a lot of unbalanced lines,” Whatley said. “Their bread and butter, though, is the veer and the straight-line option.”

This week, though, Whatley is more concerned about his team scoring a touchdown.

“The main thing we’re going to work on is we’re going to try to find a way to get in the end zone,” Whatley said. “I may walk ‘em down there and show them that line with the big “G” on it, and see if we can’t step across it a few times.”