Pregame analysis of Jacksonville State’s game at Liberty

The game

What: Jacksonville State Gamecocks (2-1) at Liberty Flames (1-2)

Rankings: JSU is No. 3 in the FCS Stats poll and No. 4 in the FCS coaches rankings. Liberty has received votes in each but is unranked.

When: 6 p.m. Central time, Saturday

Where: Williams Stadium in Lynchburg, Va.

TV/radio/online: TV: None; WLJS-FM, 91.9 (Jacksonville); WVOK-FM, 97.9 (Oxford); 98.1 (Gadsden); WKXX-FM, 102.9 (Atalla). Online: ESPN3

Four-down territory

1. S-T-U-D-E-N-T-S: Liberty, without a doubt, is known for its ridiculously large and noisy student section, which is placed behind the visitors’ bench. Yes, Jacksonville State played at LSU earlier this season, but the Tigers’ students are well away from the sidelines while the Flames’ are right on top of the opposing team. This will create an interesting situation for the Gamecocks.

2. Mr. Perfect: John Grass has lost only to FBS teams during the regular season since taking over as Jacksonville State’s head coach in 2014. He hasn’t lost to a school of the same classification (FCS to FCS, Class 6A to 6A, etc.) during the regular season since falling to Class 6A opponent Spain Park during his final season at Oxford in 2012. Grass is a perfect 10-0 in true road games against FCS opponents during the regular season.

3. Well actually …: On third-down conversions this since co-defensive coordinators David Blackwell and Brandon Hall took over in 2014, Jacksonville State has held opponents to a .302 conversion rate (130-430). This stat gives Eli Jenkins and the Gamecock offense multiple opportunities, throughout the game to, get on the field and score points for Jax State.

4. Streaking: This stat has been talked about, a lot, so the initial thought was to save it but sometimes you just have to go for it on fourth down. (See what I did there?) Eli Jenkins is 28-0 as a starting quarterback against non-FBS opponents during the regular season. You think he’s going to let that streak come to an end? When Jacksonville State fell behind against Coastal Carolina, it was the All-America quarterback who stepped up and took over the game in the closing minutes to earn Jax State its first regular-season win over a ranked non-conference FCS opponent at home.

Key matchup

Jacksonville State quarterback Eli Jenkins vs. Liberty’s defense: I’m sure everyone is tired of reading Jenkins’ name, but the Jacksonville State offense goes as he goes — it’s been that way since he’s taken over. Liberty has struggled against running quarterbacks and Jenkins is the only quarterback in JSU history with more than 3,000 career rushing yards. (He has an outside shot of setting the school record, but we’ll save that for later.) Jenkins has developed his passing game, made obvious by three straight games of 200 or more passing yards. So, even opposing defenses won’t let him run, he still has his arm.

Player of the week

Eli Jenkins, QB, senior, 6-2, 210: Jenkins led Jacksonville State to a come-from-behind win over Coastal Carolina last week. He’s led the Gamecocks to 28 straight wins over non-FBS opponents during the regular season. Jenkins has … well … led Jax State since taking over as the full-time starting quarterback before the start of his sophomore season. His list of accomplishments are growing as long as Santa Claus’ Christmas list — and that’s not an exaggeration. The only thing missing, besides a hand full of school record, is a national championship ring and he’s going to do everything within his ability — and then some — to make sure his school earns one before he graduates.

By the numbers

1.000: Since taking over as head coach before the start of the 2014 season, John Grass has not lost a true road game to an FCS opponent. Grass is 10-0 in such games.

3: After passing Clay Green (2003-06) on Jacksonville State’s career rushing touchdown list, Eli Jenkins is now three behind Troymaine Pope (2012-15) for fourth on the list.

9.5: Redshirt-junior defensive end Darius Jackson is 9.5 tackles for loss away from tying Chris Landrum (2013-15) school-record for tackles for loss in a Jacksonville State career (39.5).  

38: Quarterback Eli Jenkins needs only 38 more rushing yards to pass Rondy Rogers (1999-02; 3,143) for fourth on Jacksonville State’s career rushing yards list.

Prediction

This could be a potential trap game for Jacksonville State. As with Coastal Carolina last week, Liberty has nothing to lose but everything to gain with this matchup. The Flames have been struggling to ignite through three games this season, but the same can be said for the Gamecocks. LU played two FBS schools close through three quarters before falling during the fourth quarter, so they have the talent to throw a few body shots. However, Jax State may have just a bit more talent — even if it isn’t fully gelled — so the visitors take this one in front of the best student section JSU has played in front of. (Pun intended since Liberty’s students set up behind the visitors’ bench.)

Jacksonville State 27, Liberty 21