Pregame analysis as Jacksonville State looks to extend its Ohio Valley Conference winning streak against Eastern Illinois this weekend.
What: Eastern Illinois Panthers (1-5, 1-2 OVC) at Jacksonville State Gamecocks (4-1, 3-0)
Rankings: Jacksonville State is ranked No. 7 in the FCS coaches poll and No. 8 in the STATS poll. Eastern Illinois is not receiving votes in either poll.
When: 3 p.m. Central time, Saturday
Where: Burgess-Snow Field at JSU Stadium in Jacksonville
Line: Jacksonville State by 28, according to sportsbet.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 (Atalla); Online: ESPN3
1. The last time: It’s been 35 games since Jacksonville State lost an Ohio Valley Conference game. The last OVC team to beat the Gamecocks? Eastern Illinois. On Nov. 16, 2013, JSU lost to a Jimmy Garoppolo-led Panther team. Since that game, the Gamecocks have won their last 35 conference games, which is the longest active Division I streak and longest active in OVC history. Duquesne holds the FCS record with 39 straight conference wins when it won 39 Metro Atlanta games from 1999 to 2006.
2. Comin’ ’round the bend: It’s been a roller coaster of a career for Jamari Hester, but the Miami native is playing his best football these last three weeks. He hauled in a 40-yard touchdown against Tennessee Tech on Sept. 22, before turning in a career performance against Austin Peay with seven catches for 146 yards and two touchdowns. Last week at Eastern Kentucky, the 6-foot-7 receiver had four receptions for 53 yards and a touchdown. He already has more receiving touchdowns this season than in his previous two seasons.
3. Wait, what?: Jacksonville State’s offense has been known to produce a 100-yard rusher nearly every game, but this year is different. With youth in the backfield and a quarterback who can throw the ball a quarter mile, the Gamecocks have spread the wealth in the backfield. Until last weekend at EKU, no active Gamecock had rushed for 100 yards in a game. That streak was snapped when back-up quarterback Zion Webb had 100 rushing yards on only eight carries.
4. Winning on the field: Since JSU Stadium opened in 1946, Jacksonville State is 278-101-8 (.729) at home. The Gamecocks have the highest home winning percentage among active OVC teams with a 73-16 (.820) mark since 2003 when JSU joined the conference. In their last 61 home games, JSU is 52-9, and the Gamecocks are 46-5 in their last 51 regular-season home games.
Eastern Illinois wide receiver Alexander Hollins vs. Jacksonville State cornerbacks Yul Gowdy and Jacquez Payton: Hollins is one of the best wide receivers Jacksonville State fans haven’t heard of. A junior college product out of Copiah-Lincoln Community College in Wesson, Miss., Hollins was named to the OVC all-newcomer team in 2017. Through six games this season, Hollins has 53 receptions for 733 yards and 11 touchdowns. His 11 scores are the top mark in both the OVC and FCS (JSU receiver Josh Pearson is second in both categories with eight). For JSU on defense, Yul Gowdy and Jacques Payton, the two cornerbacks who line up on opposing teams’ primary targets, have a combined eight pass breakups. Neither have an interception, but that could be coming sooner rather than later.
Player of the week
Marlon Bridges, safety, junior 6-foot-0, 200 pounds: This section has become a curse: Last week, Randy Robinson got injured, Pearson had only 36 receiving yards two weeks ago and Michael Matthews had only two carries for 10 yards against Tennessee Tech. So, let’s try to break the unfortunate luck this week with the unanimous preseason All-American Marlon Bridges. Yes, the preseason Ohio Valley Conference Defensive Player of the Year isn’t 100 percent — yet — but he’s getting there week by week. This isn’t the same EIU offense that had Jimmy Garoppolo at the helm, but the Panthers still average 342.2 yards through the air a game, so the Gamecocks are going to need Bridges.
By the numbers
23.1: Jacksonville State leads the FCS in third-down defense. The Gamecocks have allowed opponents to convert 18 of 87 (23.1 percent) third-down opportunities through five games this season.
1: Only one FCS teams ranks in the top five in both total offense and total defense — Jacksonville State. Gamecocks are No. 1 in total defense (221.6 yards per game) and No. 4 in total offense (544.6 yards per game).
25: On the season, the Jacksonville State offense has 25 scoring drives of less than three minutes.
27: Jacksonville State has won 27 consecutive regular-season home games, dating back to the 2013 season. The Gamecocks last regular-season home loss came on Oct. 12, 2013, against Tennessee State.
Jacksonville State is playing great right now. Eastern Illinois, on the other hand, comes into this weekend’s game with a 1-5 record. The Panthers’ only win is a 52-38 victory at Tennessee Tech the same weekend JSU beat Austin Peay 48-32. Last weekend, the Gamecocks limited a top-10 EKU rushing attack to a mere 20 yards. This weekend, the Panthers will throw it a lot more than any team JSU has faced so far this season. This game has the ingredients to be a high-scoring contest, but JSU head coach John Grass and his coaching staff will make the necessary second-half adjustments to pull away during the fourth quarter.
Jacksonville State 45, Eastern Illinois 21