May 1—Pregame analysis as Jacksonville State plays host to Delaware on Sunday:
What: Jacksonville State (10-2) vs. Delaware (6-0)
Rankings: JSU is No. 8 in the STATS FCS poll, No. 9 in AFCA FCS Coaches Poll; Delaware is No. 5 in both polls. JSU is seeded fourth in the FCS playoffs, while Delaware is unseeded.
When: 2 p.m. Central time, Sunday
Where: Burgess-Snow Field at JSU Stadium (12,000 under NCAA's COVID-19 protocols).
Line: JSU is a 3.5-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 the 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 2020-21. JSU also opened the playoffs at home in 2013 and 2018, beating Samford in 2013 and East Tennessee State in 2018.
2. Win and hope: JSU's No. 4 national seed meant at least two playoff games at home, assuming the Gamecocks advance, and JSU needs to win and get help to have a third. The other quarterfinal on JSU's side of the bracket involves top-seeded South Dakota State and Southern Illinois. To play the FCS semifinal round at home for the second time in program history, JSU must beat Delaware then hope for a Southern Illinois upset of South Dakota State.
3. Sunday football: The Gamecocks opened the playoffs on a Saturday and didn't want another Sunday game after playing them all spring, but Sunday football they got. Of JSU's eight games played this spring, six were on Sundays, the only exceptions being the Murray State game on Easter weekend and a victory over Davidson in the first round of the playoffs. The Gamecocks will return to regular Saturday football in the fall.
4. Delaware starts with D: Like JSU, Delaware has one of FCS football's top defenses. The Blue Hens rank fourth in total defense (JSU 14th), giving up 226.8 yards a game; second in scoring defense (JSU 12th), giving up 11.33 points a game; eighth in interceptions (JSU one of four teams tied for fourth), snagging nine in six games. To put interceptions in perspective, JSU's 10 came over 12 games.
Delaware's secondary against Zion Webb: Webb, JSU's quarterback, has thrown one interception in three games, but he struggled in that department before that. He threw four against Austin Peay. Delaware has a strong secondary and runs what JSU coach John Grass called "exotic coverages." Chances are, the Blue Hens run a few coverages Webb didn't see in OVC play, and turnovers will be key in a game so evenly matched.
Player of the week
Jeremiah Harris, junior, 5-foot-10, 180 pounds, safety: Davidson's triple-option game is designed to stretch defenses, get ball carriers to the second and third levels and force one-on-one tackling. Harris caught the brunt of it last week and set a new career high with 12 tackles, besting his old total of nine. All 12 of his tackles came in the first half.
By the numbers
2: JSU will play Delaware for only the second time in school history. The Blue Hens beat the Gamecocks 42-27 in the 1978 Division II playoffs at Newark.
7: JSU made school history against Davidson, scoring two touchdowns seven seconds apart late in the first half, the shortest span between touchdowns in Gamecock history.
13: JSU will play its 13th game of the pandemic-impacted 2020-21 season Sunday, breaking a tie with The Citadel for the most in FCS football.
Two strong defenses and two teams that can run and stop the run, but JSU is playing at home.
Jacksonville State 24, Delaware 21
Sports Writer Joe Medley: 256-235-3576. On Twitter: @jmedley_star.