Austin Peay at No. 7 Jacksonville State: game outlook, check ESPN+ to watch the Gamecocks

Joe Medley, The Anniston Star, Ala.
·4 min read

Mar. 27—Pregame analysis as Jacksonville State plays host to Austin Peay on Sunday:

The game

What: Jacksonville State (7-1, 4-0 OVC) vs. Austin Peay (2-5, 2-2)

Rankings: JSU is No. 7 in the STATS FCS poll; Austin Peay is not ranked.

When: 2 p.m. Central time, Sunday

Where: Burgess-Snow Field at JSU Stadium (24,000).

Line: JSU is a 10.5-point favorite, according to vegasinsider.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. Power play: The 2020-21 Gamecocks are proving that 2019 was, indeed, a transition year. This season feels like seasons prior, when JSU won five consecutive OVC titles, won in streaks and stayed in the rankings. JSU has won seven games in a row after losing at Florida State to open the fall season and led Power 5 conference member Florida State well into the third quarter. JSU has spent the past four weeks in the STATS Perform FCS top 10 and currently sits at No. 7 in both FCS polls. The Gamecocks have dominated OVC play so far. Over the seven-game winning streak, JSU has outscored opponents 28.6-14.9 and outgained them 397.4-228.0.

2. Fear the defense: So many stats point to the strength of JSU's defense so far this season. They've held six consecutive opponents under 100 rushing yards and held Southeast Missouri State to 24 Sunday. They've forced at least one turnover in each of eight games this season. That goes a long way to perhaps the most basic and most impressive stat; JSU has given up five touchdowns in its past five games, dating back to the fall and hasn't given up more than two in a game since the Mercer game Oct. 10.

3. Turnovers and penalties: The biggest drag on JSU's dominance so far has been turnovers and penalties, but the Gamecocks have committed just one turnover in each of the past two games. The Gamecocks committed just three penalties for 20 yards against SEMO, a week after 12 penalties cost JSU 129 yards at Tennessee-Martin.

4. Topping Tennessee: Remember JSU's 36-game OVC winning streak? One of the streaks within that streak was JSU's 26-game winning streak against teams from Tennessee. The Tennessee streak, which carried beyond JSU's OVC streak, included non-conference victories over Chattanooga and East Tennessee State. With a victory against Austin Peay on Sunday, JSU can once again sweep the Tennessee portion of its schedule. The Gamecocks have beaten Tennessee Tech, Tennessee State and Tennessee-Martin this fall. Austin Peay broke JSU's 26-game winning streak against Tennessee teams in 2019 and JSU's 12-game winning streak against the Governors. Soon to leave the OVC, the Gamecocks will try to avenge both.

Key matchup

JSU's offense against Peay's D: With the way JSU's defense is playing, it hasn't needed much from the offense. The offense has played well in spurts but hasn't put together that breakout game, often because of turnovers or penalties. Enter Austin Peay, which gives up 37.1 points a game, ranking last in the OVC in scoring defense. That factors in 55-point showings by two Football Bowl Subdivision opponents, Pittsburgh and Cincinnati, in the fall, but OVC foes SEMO and UT-Martin put up 42 and 37 against the Governors the past two weeks. This could be the breakout game for JSU's offense.

Player of the week

Trae Barry, senior, 6-foot-7, 245 pounds, tight end: He returned to action against SEMO after a two-game absence because of what JSU coach John Grass described as a bone bruise resulting from shots to both knees against Tennessee Tech. Against SEMO, Barry caught three passes for 58 yards, including a 37-yarder. Barry saw his promising 2019 season end abruptly when he suffered a season-ending knee injury at Austin Peay. He came into that game leading the Gamecocks in receiving, and that team had the receiving tandem of Josh Pearson and Jamari Hester. No doubt, Barry would like to have a breakout game in his last crack at the Governors. It wouldn't take a career-high (151) or season-high (104) game for Barry to break the school record for receiving yards by a tight end. At 1,399, he needs 102 to pass Rusty Fuller.

By the numbers

7: JSU holds the longest active winning streak in FCS football by two games over Prairie View A&M and North Dakota.

65: Wins by John Grass at JSU. He's the fastest to reach the mark by any head coach in school history. He, Donn Salls (95), Jack Crowe (87) and Bill Burgess (84) have won 60 games at JSU.

144: Total yards allowed by JSU against SEMO, tied for the eighth fewest in a game in school history.

Prediction

JSU's defense writes a check that Austin Peay's defense can't cash.

Jacksonville State 42, Austin Peay 17

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