Pregame analysis of Jacksonville State’s second round FCS playoff game against Youngstown State
What: Youngstown State Penguins (9-3) at Jacksonville State Gamecocks (10-1)
Rankings: Youngstown State is 12th in the last regular-season coaches poll and 13th in FCS STATS rankings. The Penguins are unseeded in the playoffs. Jacksonville State is second in both the STATS and coaches polls and seeded third in the FCS playoffs.
When: 1 p.m. Central time, Saturday
Where: Burgess-Snow Field at JSU Stadium in Jacksonville
TV/radio/online: TV: none; radio: WLJS-FM, 91.9 (Jacksonville); WVOK-FM, 97.9 (Oxford); 98.1 (Gadsden); WKXX-FM, 102.9 (Atalla); online: ESPN3.
1. OVC vs. MVC: A lot has been made about the lack of prestige for Jacksonville State’s league, the Ohio Valley Conference, which put only one team into the FCS playoffs. Youngstown State is one of four Missouri Valley Conference teams in the 24-team field. Saturday’s game against Youngstown State will be just the second matchup against the MVC for the Gamecocks — with the other being last year’s FCS championship game against North Dakota State. If JSU wants to become a respected FCS powerhouse, then it has to start taking down teams from the “SEC of the FCS,” as some sportswriters call the MVC.
2. Blink of an eye: Saturday could have a weird vibe, if Jacksonville State doesn’t advance. If the Gamecocks are bounced in the second round, for the second time in three years, then the historic careers of Eli Jenkins and Josh Barge will come to an abrupt conclusion. To count every school record the duo has broken during their time as a Gamecock, one might need four sets of hands. It’ll be a different look for JSU without No. 7 and 12 next year, but … that’s when fans want to address that situation — next year.
3. Hard-nosed football: Playing in the Missouri Valley Conference, Youngstown State will want to control the time of possession and run the ball down opponents’ throats. In a way, that’s exactly how Jacksonville State plays football, too. The Gamecocks will look to contain the Penguins’ rushing attack, which provides 262.9 rushing yards a game. That’s roughly 18 more yards than JSU averages. However, JSU has held opponents to only 78.8 rushing yards this season.
4. Back for more: Yes, last year’s playoff run didn’t end the way JSU wanted, but John Grass and his players put in the time and effort to write a different ending for 2016. The Gamecocks are making their fourth straight postseason appearance, where JSU is 5-3 since 2014 — when Grass arrived in Jacksonville as part of then-head coach Bill Clark’s staff. Historically, Jax State is 5-6 in FCS playoff games and 20-15 all-time in NCAA playoff games.
Youngstown State’s rushing offense vs. Jacksonville State’s rush defense: Yes, this may be the easiest thing to pin point about this game. Jacksonville State allows fewer than one-third of the rushing yards that Youngstown State averages. The Penguins play in a conference known for running the football and controlling the clock, so, if they succeed in that, Jax State’s explosive offense might have to take flight against a bird that can’t fly.
Player of the week
Eli Jenkins, quarterback, senior, 6-foot-2, 210 pounds: Another important game for Jacksonville State, another reason to list Eli Jenkins as this week’s player of the game. If the Gamecocks want to make another deep postseason run, similar to the one they went on last year, then Jenkins — who finished sixth in the Walter Payton Award balloting — will have to take the game over when his number is called. With Jenkins serving as the focal point of JSU’s offense, skill players like Roc Thomas, Anthony Johnson and Josh Clemons also will have to step up and be effective with the football to open up the offense.
By the numbers
1: When Eli Jenkins takes a snap Saturday, he’ll tie Hamish MacInnes and Spencer Goffigan’s school mark of 53 games played during a Jacksonville State career.
3: Last postseason, Jacksonville State racked up three wins during its run to the national championship game. The winning streak included wins over Chattanooga, Charleston Southern and Sam Houston State, all of which made the field for this year’s playoffs.
17: During its history, Jacksonville State has made an appearance in the NCAA playoffs 17 times, including the last four straight years.
This’ll be fun, hopefully. It’ll be interesting to see Jacksonville State matchup up with another team out of the Missouri Valley. The Gamecocks have a good run defense while the Penguins love to run the ball and control the clock. However, Bo Pelini’s team doesn’t have Eli Jenkins at quarterback, who is 5-3 during the postseason, so the edge has to go to JSU, which also is playing at home.
Jacksonville State 29, Youngstown State 28