Pregame analysis of Jacksonville State’s 2018 home-opening game against Mississippi Valley State
What: Mississippi Valley State (0-1, 0-0 SWAC) at Jacksonville State (0-1, 0-0 OVC)
Rankings: Jacksonville State is ranked No. 13 in the FCS STATS poll and No. 12 in the coaches rankings. Mississippi Valley State is not receiving votes in either poll.
When: 6 p.m. Central time, Saturday
Where: Burgess-Snow Field at JSU Stadium, Jacksonville
TV/Radio/Online: WLJS-FM, 91.9 (Jacksonville); WVOK-FM, 97.9 (Oxford); 98.1 (Gadsden); WKXX-FM, 102.9 (Atalla); Online: ESPN-plus
1. The OTHER OTHER streak: Yes, Jacksonville State lost a streak the last time it took the field — consecutive wins over FCS teams. But there’s still another streak. Since taking over as JSU’s head coach in 2014, John Grass has not lost a regular-season home game. The Gamecocks have won their last 24 regular-season home games with their last loss coming to Tennessee State on Oct. 12, 2013.
2. Cooper’s debut: Zerrick Cooper, who transferred to Jacksonville State from Clemson, made his first career collegiate start in the Gamecocks' 20-17 loss to North Carolina A&T to open the year. In his debut, the strong-armed Cooper became just the seventh different JSU quarterback to throw for more than 300 yards in a game. His 320 passing yards rank 11th all-time and his 24 completions were the fifth most all-time. Cooper’s 352 yards of total offense were the 10th most in a single game.
3. Bridge to Burgess-Snow: Marlon Bridges, the Ohio Valley Conference’s preseason Defensive Player of the Year and constant in the Jacksonville State defense, is not 100 percent healthy at the moment. He played against North Carolina A&T the entire first half then exited in the third quarter. He returned for the first defensive play following the abrupt onside kick attempt by JSU later in the quarter, but quickly left the game and didn’t return. He likely won’t play much against the Delta Devils but is expected to start.
4. Wait, who is that?: Before the second half of Jacksonville State’s season-opening game against North Carolina A&T, wide receiver Josh Pearson had never recorded a reception in a game. Pearson, a redshirt junior from Decatur, finished the game with eight catches — all in the second half — for 147 yards and a touchdown. Despite never playing together, Pearson has grown into quarterback Zerrick Cooper’s favorite target during practice and that’s carried over into games.
Mississippi Valley State quarterback Chris Fowler vs. Jacksonville State secondary: Against North Carolina A&T, Jacksonville State cornerback Yul Gowdy was picked on. The 5-foot-10, 170-pound redshirt freshman was on the receiving end of a lot of mismatches, but Gowdy made it work in his favor. On the flip side, Jacquez Payton, a 6-foot-1, 165-pound redshirt sophomore, was trying his best to limit passes through the air. Add in a less than 100 percent Marlon Bridges, and defensive signal-caller Traco Williams will have to step up and make sure everyone knows assignments, so there are no busted plays.
Player(s) of the Week
Jacksonville State’s defensive front: The last time these two teams faced off on a football field, Jacksonville State set a school record in tackles for loss. In the last time out against the Delta Devils, the Gamecocks gave up only 194 total yards. Even two weeks ago, JSU held North Carolina A&T, which beat East Carolina of the FBS last week, to only 148 yards of offense. With guys like Randy Robinson, Denzel Ware, Connor Christian, Montrez Lang, E.J. Moss, Joseph Roberts, Tyre McKinney and Monty Young rotating in and out of the game, expect more of the same this time around.
By the numbers
4: By being credited with a blocked kick against North Carolina A&T, Randy Robinson now has four blocks in his career. That mark has the senior defensive lineman sitting second in the JSU record books behind Taurean Rhetta’s mark of eight.
5: Jacksonville State can’t afford too many more loses if it wants to continue the trend of being one of five Division I teams to win 10 games in each of the last five years.
7: The last seven regular-season opponents have failed to rush for more than 100 yards against Jacksonville State’s defense after the Gamecocks held North Carolina A&T to only 37 two weeks ago.
26: During Jacksonville State’s season-opening game against North Carolina A&T, 26 players made their Gamecock debut. That rounds out to 45 percent of the 57 total players who took at least one snap for JSU.
Jacksonville State should win this one with ease. The Gamecocks just have more playmakers than Mississippi Valley State and a more experienced defensive unit. This game will serve, mostly, as another opportunity for JSU head coach John Grass and his staff to evaluate their players and figure out who belongs where and who has earned more playing time. Even though Cooper is expected to start the game, Zion Webb should see plenty of time during the second half before more quarterback questions fill another bye week next week.
Jacksonville State 48, Mississippi Valley State 7