Tuesday, September 06, 2011

SPORTS >> Red Devils face more Panthers

Leader sports editor

Jacksonville won’t get another crack at the Cabot Panthers this season after dropping the disappointing season opener last week, but it will get a crack at some other Panthers — these from Benton.

Benton brings an improved team into Jan Crow Stadium on Friday for the Red Devils’ home opener.

Noticeably disappointed after the season-opening loss at Cabot, Jacksonville has packed that game away, and is focusing on what it must do better the rest of the season.

“Our kids rebounded,” Jacksonville coach Rick Russell said. “That very night when we got back we talked about facing adversity, getting through it and putting it behind you. We’re ready for Benton. All we’re thinking about is our first home game.”

There was a little looking back at game film and picking out the spots that need improvement. Illegal procedure penalties on the offense helped thwart several Jacksonville drives at Cabot. A few other things stood out that need work.

“We had too many penalties and too many missed tackles,” Russell said. “We expected to be more successful on both sides of the football. We would’ve liked some breaks, but we didn’t get them. You don’t always get the breaks. We let the emotions of the game affect us, but we’ve addressed that. I expect much better things from this point forward. The very next day, we went right to talking about what we need to do offensively and defensively. We have nine or 10 games left, minimum, and a lot to play for.”

Benton went 3-8 on the field last year, but officially went 0-11 after forfeiting all three wins for using an ineligible player.

Jacksonville beat the Panthers 34-10 last year, but this looks like a completely different Benton team.

Benton lost 45-9 to Bryant in its opener last year. Last week, it lost 21-14 and was driving with time running out. The offensive scheme is different, and the 15 returning starters are making the team better.

“We got the chance to scout them in person Friday night, and it’s an improved football team,” Russell said. “They have some kids on defense that like contact. The running threat they have this year is greatly improved over last year. We have our work cut out for us.”

The running back, Wallace Foote, was on the team a year ago, and moved to running back later on in the season. But against Jacksonville, he mostly lined up at wide receiver.

They’ve also moved away from a consistent spread attack, and have gone to multiple sets and formations.

“They lined him in at receiver, and we threw combination coverages at him and put pressure on the quarterback,” Russell said. “We were pretty successful at keeping the ball out of his hands. This year they’re just going to hand it to him. They run it at least 60 percent of the time. We’re going to have to be able to recognize what they’re doing.”

Russell saw a lot of overload sets in the Bryant game.

“If you don’t adjust to it, they can pick on you over there because they have you outmanned,” Russell said. “If you adjust too much, they’re going to run over at the weak side. We’ve got to have our bases covered. It’s going to be a challenge.”

The Red Devils suffered several minor injuries in the Cabot game.

Running back Kevin Richardson should be full strength after suffering a dislocated shoulder. Lineman Erin Davis’ sprained ankle shouldn’t be a problem by kickoff.

But the extra time off from the Tuesday game has been good for the recovery process. “The only question is Brandon Brockman,” Russell said of his tight end’s ankle injury. “His was a little more serious. He could still play Friday, we’ll just have to see. It’s a nonconference game, so we’re not going to rush it.”

For Jacksonville to win its first game of the season, the plan is simple.

“We have to do three things,” Russell said. “We have to take care of the football, get in rhythm and stay in rhythm and stop the false start penalties. Nobody wants what happened to us last week to happen, but mistakes are sometimes OK if they enhance future performance. We’re going forward, and we’re going to strap it up again at 7 o’clock Friday.”