Tuesday, September 11, 2012

SPORTS STORY >> Concerns in house for Devils

Leader sports editor

Jacksonville comes off a disappointing showing at Benton last week to prepare for yet another road game. The Red Devils will try to rebound from their 34-20, three-quarter loss at Benton against the Maumelle Hornets on Friday.

The Hornets played less than Jacksonville last week. They led North Pulaski 14-0 halfway through the second quarter when that game was halted due to inclement weather.

Maumelle played less than that its first week of play when it trailed Hot Springs Lakeside in the second quarter when that game was stopped for bad weather.

It gives the Red Devils little to study in preparation for this Friday’s game, but head coach Rick Russell says his main concern is his own team.

“We got what film we could of them, but this is more about us and what we’re going to do to get better and bounce back,” Russell said. “I was very pleased with how much the offense progressed, but defensively we were a little disappointed. We just didn’t tackle very well. The big plays killed us and a lot of it was missed tackles. We had times where technique got us too, but we have to tackle better. Wallace Foote (Benton’s star running back) is an incredible athlete, one of the best in the state, but we had him hemmed in a couple of times and let him get loose.”

Starting the season against Cabot, who runs the tightly packed dead T offense, to facing the spread attack of Benton was a big adjustment to make in one week. Maumelle doesn’t run a wide open spread, but is more similar to Benton than to Cabot. Russell expects a better defensive performance this week.

“You know you work for weeks teaching to run downhill, shoot the gaps and play very aggressively against Cabot, then you have to come back and get them out of that and try to get them to stay back and read,” Russell said. “We didn’t do that as well as we needed to and that’s my job to make those adjustments and have them prepared. So I’ll take the responsibility for that. We’re going to be better.”

After being held scoreless against Cabot, including gaining just one first down in the second half, the Jacksonville offense executed some big plays and moved the ball well against Benton.

“We ran the ball better and we threw it better,” Russell said. “Aaron Smith played a good game. He’s becoming the kind of quarterback you want back there. He made some good decisions on his reads and he made some good throws. We’re still having too many drops. That’s the last piece of the puzzle that makes a play work, catching the ball. Everybody else can do everything right.

“The ball is placed where it needs to be, but you have to catch it. And we’re going to get there too. We just have to play and practice with a little more focus – get a little more determined.”

While conference play, which determines playoff berths and positions, doesn’t begin until week four, the Red Devils are approaching this game as if it were that important.

“This week there is urgency,” Russell said. “We’re treating this like our first conference game. We’re treating this like a ‘have-to-win’ game because we need to be playing like we’re capable of playing when conference starts. If we can play like that, and be as good as I think we can be, this can be the best team we’ve ever had since I’ve been here. I like this team.”