By Thomas Corhern, TTU Sports Information
JACKSONVILLE, Ala. – It's easy to look at wins and losses to measure a team, but there's a lot more to consider than just a tally in a column as the team continues to rebuild its program.
Even though the Tennessee Tech football team took a 48-20 defeat at No. 9 Jacksonville State on Saturday night, there is no denying that the team has improved and continues to get better.
"Our guys came here to win this game," said Tech head coach Dewayne Alexander. "We didn't come down here to play close and we weren't worried about what these guys have done for the past four years. This was the 2018 Golden Eagles versus the 2018 Jacksonville State team. We came down here to compete and our guys competed hard. We played hard, but it was the same thing – we just did not play well enough to win the game in some key situations.
"In all four games, it's been a mistake. One little thing and you'll pay for it against a really good football team. (Jacksonville State) has a really good team, make no mistake about it. I'm very proud of our team, very proud of their fight and I can tell you this – the Golden Eagles will be back at home next week against Eastern Illinois and we're going to do the best we can to go 1-0 each week for the following seven weeks."
The evidence is clear: Tech put up the most points it has scored this season against one of the Ohio Valley Conference's staunchest defenses. After a slow start, true freshman Bailey Fisher started to get more comfortable despite facing intense pressure. He ended the game with 96 yards on 11-of-27 passing.
The Golden Eagles, as a team, rushed for 142 yards. While it sounds meager, it is the most any team has rushed on the Gamecocks this season, a feat in itself on a team that prides itself on holding teams under 100 rushing yards 80 times since jumping up to the Division I ranks. It's the most rushing yards Tech has had against JSU since 2013 and the fourth most since the Gamecocks joined the conference.
The offense also only turned the ball over once. The Gamecocks were only able to convert the takeaway into seven points.
"We made some plays at the wide receiver position that we hadn't been making," Alexander said. "We had chances but just didn't make them. Darrius Stafford had some nice plays, Jeremiah Edwards – we finally got to see him do the things we wanted him to do and made some nice plays. R.D. Ford made a nice play. Our quarterbacks threw some good balls, and we had some key drops that could have made a difference in the game, but, overall, I was very pleased with what I saw there. There was a huge improvement from what we saw in the previous games."
Nick Madonia went 2-for-3 on field goals, including a 53-yarder, which gives him the longest (57 yards against Tennessee State in 2016), second-longest (54 yards last week at Utah State) and now tied for the third-longest field goal in Tennessee Tech history.
As a team, Tech compiled 292 yards of total offense – the most since 2015.
There's still a long way to go, but with a young team that is showing progress, there's nowhere to go but up.
"We came into the game shorthanded at linebacker with Aderick Moore and Randy Lewis out," Alexander said. "But that's a couple of guys. We continued to fight hard and we ended up doing some nice things offensively. We did what we needed to do – we were controlling time of possession, we were hanging in there and making some big plays. In the second half, we were driving then we had the fumble. Then we had three straight three-and-outs and they wore us down."
Zerrick Cooper threw for two touchdowns and 190 yards on 14-of-24 passing, while Zion Webb rushed for two touchdowns and 59 yards on nine carries. Josh Pearson caught both touchdowns on five receptions for 102 yards.
Tech returns to action on Saturday as it hosts Eastern Illinois, starting at 6 p.m.
And it will be a chance to show just what the Golden Eagles have learned going through the gauntlet of these first four opponents.
"It definitely benefits, because you don't get better unless you get challenged," Alexander said. "Our guys have been challenged. At one point, on one of the scoring drives, we had eight freshmen in the ball game. Eight freshmen. We're only going to get better playing these guys. We've done that. We've gone against really good people. The thing I like is that we've hung in there. They still have their heads up. They're still playing. They're still together and there's no finger pointing, moaning or complaining. That is not going to exist in this program, but they're not done. My hat's off to our young men for that and to our coaching staff for staying the course.
"We have a big picture plan for this program and a short-term plan for this program. The 2018 season still has a lot of goals ahead of us. We still have a lot to accomplish out there. Starting next week at home, we just want to see about going 1-0 and see if we can do that for seven weeks in a row. I really feel like we have a football team that can do that."