Five Fast Facts: After stunning loss, JSU prepares to hit the road for EIU

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Mark Edwards, The Anniston Star, Ala.
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Mar. 30—JACKSONVILLE — The Jacksonville State Gamecocks are coming off a loss, they're no longer leading the Ohio Valley Conference, and they're facing a short week with a trip to play at Eastern Illinois on Saturday.

Still, JSU still is in the hunt for a league championship. With two games left, Murray State leads the OVC standings at 5-0. JSU is second at 4-1, with Austin Peay third at 3-2.

While JSU is visiting EIU (1-4) on Saturday at 1 p.m., Austin Peay will host Murray State. Those games are Saturday because Sunday is Easter. On April 11, Murray State will host JSU.

The Gamecocks need to win both remaining games, but if they do, they'll clinch at least a share of the league championship. Not only that, but they'll win the tiebreaker and get the OVC's automatic bid to the 16-team FCS playoffs.

So, JSU isn't spending much time licking its wounds after the 13-10 loss to Austin Peay, which was a 10.5-point underdog.

"Got to get that one behind you pretty quickly and move forward," JSU head coach John Grass said Tuesday during his regular weekly video conference with reporters.

Here are five things to know as JSU prepares for Saturday's game.

1. Improved EIU

The Panthers opened the season with a 47-7 loss to Southeast Missouri but have played better recently since turning to freshman quarterback Otto Kuhns. They beat Tennessee State 21-10 before losing to Murray State 41-27. EIU led Murray 27-13 in the third quarter.

"Everybody's going to look at their record and go, 'OK, it's an easy bounce-back week.' No, you're on a short week, and you've got a flight," Grass said. "You've got to go up there and you got to play. You've got to play them against a team that is getting better."

2. Short week

JSU will get only three practices before this game. The team was off from on-field workouts Monday after Sunday's game. Practice was scheduled for Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, and Friday will be the travel day when JSU flies to EIU.

"We've got to make the most of the three practices we're going to get this week and get ready to play," Grass said.

3. The penalties

JSU had 18 penalties in Sunday's loss to Austin Peay, and the last time an Ohio Valley Conference team had that many was 2017 when Austin Peay had 19 in a game.

Seven were defensive offsides.

"We've got to stay onsides, No. 1," Grass said. "You look back at the game, they were doing some things with their snapcounts that gave us some problems. The center was kind of moving the ball a little bit, bouncing his head. That affected us some. We got adjusted to it in the second half."

Grass was bothered by the personal foul penalties. JSU was flagged for personal fouls three times. In addition, the officials called defensive roughing the passer on JSU once and defensive unsportsmanlike conduct.

"I think the personal foul situation, some of them were tit-for-tat. Nothing out of the way there as far as a major problem correcting those things," Grass said. "I haven't had many games in my career where we've made six turnovers — laid the ball on the ground another time and could've been seven — and had (that many) personal fouls.

"I can't comment too much on those, other than there's not much I can do in practice to correct those."

4. The turnovers

Jacksonville State had 14 drives Sunday, and six ended in turnovers. One ended because of the halftime break.

"That didn't give us a chance offensively to produce," Grass said.

Two of the turnovers were fumbles, and Zion Webb threw four interceptions.

"It's not just one guy," Grass said. "Everybody's going to say, 'Hey, it's the quarterback.' But it's a little bit quarterback, it's a little bit O-line, it's a little bit different things at different times. They are easily correctable. Zion, he didn't play his best game, for sure."

5. Defense

The Jacksonville State defense, under the direction of second-year coordinator Kelvin Sigler, drew praise from Grass for allowing only 13 points. In the fourth quarter, Austin Peay had four drives and got the ball at no worse than its own 43. The Govs didn't score in that period.

"I can't say enough about our defensive staff and our players," Grass said. "I told them after the game and I told them yesterday that you played championship football. If we continue to play that type defense, we've got a shot."

Senior Editor Mark Edwards: 256-235-3570. On Twitter: @MarkSportsStar.