Then he walked out to pre-game warm-ups with the rest of the specialists and met the full force of his concern face on.
The wind at O’Brien Stadium on Saturday was howling at 25 mph. Gusts were ripping near 40. JSU head coach Bill Clark said he’d never been in anything like it at a game before. Griffin didn’t know it at the time, but the National Weather Service had issued a wind advisory for the area for later in the day.
Just the kind of thing a kicker needs going into a big game. But Thomas knew to be ready for it.
“Every time we come here they always have a really strong wind, because it’s a really open stadium,” he said. “Their wind is always strong and it plays a big factor in the game.”
The Gamecocks kicked into the wind in the first and third quarters. Luckily, most of Thomas’ kickoffs were with the wind.
JSU punter Hamish MacInnes didn’t have it so good. He had to punt six times to the nation’s top-ranked team in punt returns into the wind.
As they contemplated the conditions on the ride over, Griffin hinted MacInnes mentioned he might have a shot to break the record 86-yarder he kicked at Tennessee Tech earlier this year, but it wasn’t to be.
He was never backed up with the wind at his back. One of his kicks into the wind did go 50 yards, but one also went 15.
“We knew it was going to be a challenge,” MacInnes said. “Playing Australian Rules Football, we had some pretty bad conditions, played in wind like this, but it’s a bit of a different thing.”
The wind didn’t affect just the punts. It impacted the Gamecocks’ passing game and shotgun snaps.
The Gamecocks were convinced they had a touchdown on their second play of the game, but the wind kept Max Shortell’s pass from getting to receiver Josh Barge. On the next play, Shortell couldn’t handle the shotgun snap, tripped over the ball and EIU recovered deep in JSU’s territory leading to the first touchdown in a 35-point first quarter.
“The wind had a big effect on the game,” quarterback Eli Jenkins said. “We got out here early, it was real tough. We’d throw it left and it’d go all the way right. I guess they just play up here all the time so they’re used to it. We don’t get any wind like that.”
Al Muskewitz covers Jacksonville State sports for The Star. He can be reached at 256-235-3577.