JACKSONVILLE — One game is in the books, and for Jacksonville State, it was a frustrating one.
The Gamecocks looked like a better team than North Carolina A&T in the FCS Kickoff game, but the Aggies played more fundamentally sound in a 20-17 win over JSU.
Here are five things to keep in mind as JSU prepares for its second game, which will be Sept. 8 at home against Mississippi Valley State:
1. Marlon Bridges
JSU’s All-America safety sat out part of the second half after reinjuring his knee, but head coach John Grass said after practice that Bridges should be “100 percent” by the time the Ohio Valley Conference schedule begins.
Grass said Bridges “bumped knees with somebody” and should sit out some of this week’s practice. Bridges, a junior, still finished with five tackles.
2. Zion Webb
A redshirt freshman quarterback, Webb played only one series, and JSU needs to find him more playing time, especially as the Gamecocks prepare for league play. Coaches and teammates have raved about his work in practice the past year, and while starter Zerrick Cooper did good things Saturday, especially in the second half, Webb has earned a chance to play more.
One series isn’t going to reveal everything Webb can do. He took seven snaps against A&T, and penalties ruined two of them, including a nifty 18-yard completion to running back Michael Matthews on third-and-10. A pass interference penalty brought it back.
3. Josh Pearson
Pearson, a redshirt junior, played in only one JSU game before Saturday. He was academically ineligible late in last season, which cost him almost all of the year.
He caught eight passes for 147 yards against North Carolina A&T, and it’s clear his emergence gives the Gamecocks another good pass-catcher.
4. Run defense
The loss covers up what a solid job the JSU defensive front did. North Carolina A&T rushed 36 times and gained only 37 yards.
Marquell Cartwright, A&T’s fifth-year senior running back, never was a big factor. JSU has an experienced defensive line, and it showed how good it can be Saturday. Randy Robinson (2.5 tackles behind the line) and Connor Christian (1.5 stops for loss) led the way.
5. The playoffs
JSU lost an opportunity Saturday to boost itself in the eyes of the FCS playoff selection committee. This would’ve been a good win to have on its resume.
JSU has gotten a top-four seeding in each of the previous four years, but that’s in danger now. Even a top-eight seed, which would give JSU a bye through the first round, is in jeopardy. Considering how the selection committee doesn’t seem to like the Ohio Valley Conference, the Gamecocks need to do something in addition to dominating their league.
The good thing for JSU is that there’s another opportunity in the regular-season finale against Kennesaw State, which was No. 5 in the STATS FCS preseason poll. A win in that one combined with an OVC regular-season title would push JSU back into contention for a high seed.