JSU football teaser

Pregame analysis as Jacksonville State visits Tennessee Tech on Saturday:

The game

What: Jacksonville State Gamecocks (6-4, 3-3 OVC) at Tennessee Tech Golden Eagles (5-4, 2-3)

Rankings: Both teams are unranked.

When: 1:30 p.m. Central time, Saturday

Where: Tucker Stadium (16,500), Cookeville, Tenn.

Line: JSU by 7, according to Sportsbookreview.com.

Radio/Online: WLJS-FM, 91.9 (Jacksonville); WRBZ-FM, 95.5 (Montgomery) WVOK-FM, 97.9 (Oxford); 98.1 (Gadsden); WKXX-FM, 102.9 (Attalla); Online: ESPN+

Four-down territory

1. Grass’s goal: JSU’s customary goals of OVC championships and playoffs appear out of reach, following JSU’s 22-17 loss at Tennessee-Martin last week, and JSU coach John Grass has set a new goal. Speaking at his Monday news conference, he said he wanted the Gamecock seniors to have an 8-4 finish, the best for which they can hope after a six-year run of better things.

2. Road woes: With the loss at Martin, JSU stands at 4-7 away from home since the start of the 2018 season. That includes two neutral-site games. The Gamecocks get another test Saturday, against a Tennessee Tech team that has already improved over its 1-10 finish from a year ago by four more wins.

3. Defense travels: JSU’s defense has put together three, back-to-back-to-back games where it played well enough for JSU to win. While giving up yards, the Gamecocks have been especially strong in the red zone lately, not giving up points. Since the Gamecocks lost 52-33 at Austin Peay on Sept. 28, they have not given up more than 24 points. That covers a five-game span and includes two road games. In a normal year for offense in the Bill Clark/Grass era, that would be enough to win most games.

4. Coop de Ville XI: Several dropped passes marred quarterback Zerrick Cooper’s day at Martin, but he became the fourth JSU player to surpass 6,000 career passing yards. His career and season numbers remain noteworthy, even in a disappointing season: 22 touchdown passes this season, eighth nationally and tied for third-most in JSU history, after he set the school record with 32 in 2018; 54 career touchdown passes, second only to Ed Lett (61) in school history; 66 combined passing or running touchdowns, second only to Eli Jenkins’ 89; 2,751 passing yards this season, giving Cooper two of four 2,500-yard passing seasons in school history; 6,197 career passing yards, fourth in school history.

Key matchup

JSU's offense vs. Tennessee Tech's defense: If ever there was a game on the schedule for JSU’s offense to reclaim form, it’s Saturday’s game at Tennessee Tech. The Golden Eagles give up 37.3 points a game. That includes 58 in an overtime game against Samford, 55 against Martin and 58 against Austin Peay. A JSU offense that has averaged 17 points over its past three games, despite plenty of yards, needs to turn yards to points Saturday.

Player of the week

Zerrick Cooper, quarterback, junior, 6-foot-4, 225 pounds: Drops became contagious at Martin, but Cooper did his best. He completed 16 of 36 passes for 240 yards, a touchdown and an interception. He accounted for both of JSU’s touchdowns, a 1-yard sneak and 6-yard pass to Michael Matthews. Dropped passes killed drives and, by Grass’ own estimate, likely cost JSU 75-100 yards.

By the numbers

7: Consecutive victories for JSU against Tennessee Tech, with Tech’s last victory coming when JSU blew a 24-7 lead in the fourth quarter at Tech in 2011.

16: Consecutive winning seasons for JSU, the longest-active streak in FCS and one that still could survive this season. A win Saturday guarantees it.

83: JSU’s streak of weeks ranked in the STATS-FCS Top 25, a streak that ended this week. It was the third-longest active streak.

Prediction

So many streaks and norms have fallen for JSU this season, but the Gamecocks’ seven-game winning streak against TTU has seen JSU outcore the Golden Eagles 284-106 and outgain them 3,744-1,796.

Jacksonville State 35, Tennessee Tech 20.

—Joe Medley

Sports Writer Joe Medley: 256-235-3576. On Twitter: @jmedley_star.

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