Jacksonville's defensive struggles continued last week when the Tribe lost a 56-35 decision to Palestine on Thursday night.
The Indian defenders have given up 98 points and over 1,100 total yards in their first two games in losses to No. 1-ranked Carthage (Class 3A) and to Palestine, a much under-rated Class 3A ball club.
Despite the early success of the Tribe's offense — the Indians have scored an average of 31.5 points a game thus for in 2013 — the team's porous defense has eliminated the Tribe's chances at posting a victory.
Correcting the defensive deficiencies has been priority one at practice this week, according to Jacksonville head coach Chris Taber, as the Indians get set to do battle with Class 3A's No. 2-ranked team, the Gilmer Buckeyes (2-0), who will be invading Tomato Bowl Friday (kick off set for 7:30 p.m.).
“Spring ball and non-district is all about finding out where everybody fits,” Taber said. “We've made some (personnel) changes on defense this week and we've had some kids lose their jobs and others that have gained a starting job.
“Football is a game of repetitions and that is what we have been doing in practice this week. We've been running the plays until we are perfect and every kid is doing exactly what they are supposed to be doing...and we have been making sure our (position) coaches are holding every kid accountable for doing their job.”
Jacksonville's defensive flaws have certainly not been the product of insufficient effort, according to Taber.
“Football is an 11-man game and everyone has to focus on doing their job and not doing someone else's,” he said. “What we saw last week was (some) kids trying to do everything and they were hurting us more than they were helping us because they were not first doing their job.”
Taber said that the shortcomings of the defense can be traced back to two things.
“The higher the level of play the more emphasis it is on reading your pre-snap keys and cross keys,” he said. “That's one thing that we have not been doing a job on.
“The other is tackling. We haven't tackled well in our first two games.”
Taber said the paramount thing that he will be seeking Friday night will be improvement from his team.
“Even though nine of our defensive starters are either sophomores or freshmen, they are varsity football players now and we are not going to keep using youth and inexperience as an excuse,” Taber said. “Regardless of what the score of the game is on Friday, what is most important is that we improve as a team because that's what non-district is all about, getting better and being ready to play that first district game when Nacogdoches comes in here on Oct. 11.”
Head coach Jeff Traylor's boys are off to a fast start this year, having chalked up lopsided wins over Atlanta (57-7) and Plano Prestonwood Christian (66-32).
Gilmer has been nothing short of an offensive juggernaut this year, having defeated its first-two foes by an average margin of 50 points.
The Buckeyes will be one of the most experienced teams the Tribe will face all year. Gilmer returns seven offensive starters and six on the defensive side from a team that went 14-2 last year and was only a single victory short of earning yet another state championship.
“Coach Traylor does a phenomenal job with those kids and they have been in his system for 12 years now and they know it and execute it very well,” Taber said.
Leading the Buckeyes is senior-quarterback Tanner Barr. Barr has completed 39-of-52 passes for 686 yards and 11 touchdowns thus far — he also has two interceptions.
His leading receiver is Desmond Pollard (10-247, 5 TDs).
The Buckeyes also have a formidable running game, with Jamel Jackson (21-194, 3 TDs) paving the way by gaining an average of 9.3 yards every time he touches the leather.