Davidson at Jacksonville State: game outlook, check ESPN3 to watch the Gamecocks
Apr. 24—Pregame analysis as Jacksonville State plays host to Davidson on Saturday:
What: Jacksonville State (9-2) vs. Davidson (4-2)
Rankings: JSU is No. 8 in the STATS FCS poll, No. 9 in AFCA FCS Coaches Poll; Davidson received votes in both polls.
When: 1 p.m. Central time, Saturday
Where: Burgess-Snow Field at JSU Stadium (24,000).
Line: JSU is a 20.5-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: ESPN3
1. Playoff time: JSU is back in the FCS playoffs after missing them in 2019, breaking a string of six straight years in the field. The Gamecocks made a pandemic-abbreviated 16-team field this year with a No. 4 national seed. Out of the seven times JSU has made the playoffs in the Bill Clark/John Grass coaching era, the Gamecocks have had a national seed five times: No. 3 in 2014, No. 1 in 2015, No. 3 in 2016, No. 3 in 2017 and No. 4 in 2021. JSU also opened the playoffs at home in 2013 and 2018, beating Samford in 2013 and East Tennessee State in 2018.
2. Rested JSU: The Gamecocks had an open date in the final weekend of the regular season, and they needed it. Tennessee State rescheduling its game with JSU meant that the Gamecocks played seven Ohio Valley Conference games in as many weeks. The time off allowed players like cornerback George Steele (ankle) and safety Jeremiah Harris (hamstring) to heal up ... good news for a defense that has lost six starters to injury this season. Ends D.J. Coleman and Umstead Sanders are the only two defensive starters to start every game.
3. All's well with Webb: After committing five turnovers in the loss to Austin Peay on March 28, JSU quarterback Zion Webb put together strong performances against Eastern Illinois and Murray State. He posted a 181.3 quarterback rating against EIU and 139.2 against Murray State, committing just one turnover (a fumble) in those two games. Over those two games, he's 33-for-53 passing for 488 yards and three touchdowns with no interceptions. He also rushed for a combined 128 yards and three scores in those games.
4. Watch for No. 16: Among the crowd at JSU for the Davidson game will be several family members of Wildcats cornerback Kaedon Jenkins. The sophomore starred for Piedmont High School, playing cornerback most of his career and doubling his duties at running back as a senior, in 2018. He rushed for 1,156 yards and 11 touchdowns as a senior, helping the Bulldogs to a 3A state runner-up finish. He also led the team with six interceptions and finished seventh with 80 tackles. His parents live in "The Avenues" in Jacksonville, blocks away from JSU Stadium.
JSU's run defense vs. Davidson's triple option: Davidson averages 293 rushing yards per game. JSU's defense has held nine consecutive opponents under 100 rushing yards. Something has to give. Historically, the triple option has been an equalizer. It helped Kennesaw State in its 17-7 playoff upset of JSU in 2017. KSU held the ball for 34 minutes and 47 seconds, and Davidson averages 33:58 minutes of possession time. It's the key for non-scholarship Davidson.
Player of the week
Nicario Harper, sophomore, 6-foot-1, 205 pounds, safety: He finished with eight tackles and one pass breakup in JSU's OVC-clinching, 28-14 victory over Murray State on April 11. He was also named OVC defensive player of the year and a finalist for the Buck Buchanan Award, given annually to the top defensive player in FCS football.
By the numbers
2: Number of rushes for 20 yards or more against JSU's defense in 10 games, spanning 295 carries by JSU opponents.
18: Number of consecutive seasons in which JSU has finished .500 or better, the longest active streak in FCS.
21: Number of NCAA playoff appearances for JSU, going back through the Division II years. The Gamecocks have made the playoffs 10 times in the program's Division I era, including seven in the past eight years.
With the triple option being the equalizer it is, don't count on JSU to cover the spread. Count on JSU to win and advance, however.
Jacksonville State 24, Davidson 10
Sports Writer Joe Medley: 256-235-3576. On Twitter: @jmedley_star.