HERO Sports welcomes you to "Two-a-Days", where we will preview every single one of the 125 FCS programs, with two being released each day from June 18 to August 18 (with the final day having three in one day). Today we give you … Jacksonville State.
JACKSONVILLE STATE (10-2)
OVC (JSU was 1st in the OVC in 2017)
COACH: John Grass – 5th season (43-8)
2017 OFFENSE: 28.8 ppg (41st in FCS)
2017 DEFENSE: 15.0 ppg (6th in FCS)
SUM IT UP: Jacksonville State has not lost an Ohio Valley Conference game since a certain QB named Jimmy Garoppolo was plying his trade in the OVC instead of the NFL. That makes it Nov. 16, 2013 — when EIU knocked JSU around in Charleston, Ill. So, it's been awhile. Officially? It's been 32 straight wins — the longest active conference winning streak in the FCS.
So … after that long introduction … one would think 2018 will go just like that, right? Well, it might, but the OVC seems to be elevating its game a bit. Last year, UT Martin gave the Gamecocks everything they could handle in a 14-7 game, while SEMO was only down 10-7 within four minutes left in their game at JSU. Eastern Illinois was leading JSU 14-9 in the third quarter until the Gamecocks pulled away. So that's the point here … at times, the JSU offense struggled and the typically strong defense kept things glued things together.
The Gamecocks have three solid candidates to start under center in 2018 — incumbent Bryant Horn (who has graduated), Clemson transfer Zerrick Cooper and young up-and-coming star Zion Webb. That competition will be cathartic for JSU, because the Gamecocks need to improve offensively — as the OVC is improving as a collective. Defensively? Yes the program lost the FCS' Buck Buchanan Award Winner, Darius Jackson, to the NFL Draft … but this defense is always stingy. There are new names just waiting to ascend to FCS stardom, and there are some familiar All-American names returning, too. Plan on the 'D' being stellar.
BEST-CASE SCENARIO: Even with the OVC elevating its game, as a whole, Jacksonville State still must be considered the heavy-duty favorite to win the OVC and take the automatic playoff bid — and ultimately host a second-round game and get a first-round bye. But can JSU get over the postseason hump it has gotten stuck in since playing in the 2015 national title game? That's the question people are asking all over the FCS Nation. Last year, Kennesaw State shut JSU down in its first playoff game, and that playoff matchup is always possible this year. It all hinges on the offense, but with a great QB battle going on, don't be surprised if this offense looks a lot more like the one Eli Jenkins operated from 2013-16.
TOP RETURNEE: DB Marlon Bridges (HERO Sports preseason All American – 3 INTs, 81 tackles, 6 TFL, 8 PBUs).
THE NEXT BEST: OL B.J. Autry (HERO Sports preseason All American); DL Randy Robinson (HERO Sports preseason All American – 35 tackles, 5.5 TFLs); LS Josh Brady (HERO Sports preseason All American); TE Trae Barry (10 catches, 243 yards, 3 TDs); RB Tramel Terry (430 rushing yards, 4 TDs); WR Shaq Davidson (former South Carolina player, 30 catches, 346 yards, 1 TD); LB Quan Stoudemire (61 tackles, 5.5 TFLs); DB Traco Williams (53 tackles); DE Monty Young (9 hurries, 3 TFLs); DL Connor Christian (33 tackles, 5.5 TFLs, 6 hurries); LB Christian Wafford (29 tackles, 5 TFLs).
TOP NEWCOMER: QB Zerrick Cooper (Clemson transfer).
DID YOU KNOW?: SEC programs might want to think twice about scheduling Jacksonville State. In 2010, the Gamecocks knocked off Ole Miss in the first meeting between the schools, and in 2015, JSU took Auburn to overtime before falling. The ACC's Florida State might want to reconsider it too — as the 2009 game was close (19-9) and the time they played before that, Jacksonville State beat the Seminoles. Then again, that was 1948.
THE QUOTE: ""It's hard to balance that because you try to get a little bit of football stuff in the mornings and then go out into the community and work four or five hours in the afternoon. I was very proud of how they handled the situation overall. Our guys need a pat on the back. They've done a really good job. You really don't have one in the book on how to handle a tornado hitting in the middle of spring training. But you just roll your sleeves up and you go to work, and they did everything that was expected of them and more." — Head Coach John Grass said after spring ball wrapped, just weeks after a devastating tornado hit the JSU campus
SOCIAL MEDIA SPOTLIGHT
THE HASHTAG: #staycocky
FOOTBALL TWITTER: @JSUGamecocksFB
Days Until GAME DAY!
— JSU Football (@JSUGamecocksFB) July 8, 2018
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