Jacksonville State players and coaches know what’s on the line Saturday when JSU travels north to Eastern Illinois at O’Brien Field in Charleston, IL. What’s on the line is the chance to knock off one of the best teams in the country, and in doing so, securing a spot in the FCS playoffs.
EIU is 9-1 and only lost to FBS Northern Illinois who’s undefeated and trying to break into their second straight BCS bowl game.
The Panthers are led by quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo, who's broken almost every passing record at EIU and even in the OVC imaginable.
The Walter Payton Award candidate leads the country in passing averaging 384 yards per game. Last week against Murray State was the first time Garoppolo failed to pass for more than 300 yards in a game, the Panthers still won by 20.
Garoppolo’s top target is receiver Erik Lora, who himself has broken several EIU and OVC records. Together the combo leads the Panthers’ high-octane offense that ranks first in all of FCS in total offense per game and scoring offense per game averaging 46 points a game while racking up nearly 600 yards of offense.
JSU hasn’t seen an explosive team like this yet this season, but the Gamecock defense has shown it can adjust and be prepared to step up to challenges just as it did in shutting down EKU’s threatening running attack last week. Pierre Warren and Jermaine Hough could be huge impact players as well as the guys up front forcing pressure.
On the offense, Shortell and Jenkins will need to have as similar to game as possible as a week ago and the trio of backs should be ready to pound the ball to help keep the passing game open.
JSU has never beaten a team ranked No. 1 or No. 2, since moving to division I in 1995 they’re 0-5 in games against those opponents with the last attempt coming in 2005.
With the Gamecocks at 8-2 and back in the top 25 rankings, a win would certainly secure a spot in the 24-team postseason with only a home game against SE Missouri State remaining. But a loss and the Gamecocks still stand a chance of falling victim to Tennessee State or even someone from another conference, depending on how other bubble teams across the nation perform.
The challenge may seem daunting, but after the performance against EKU, nothing can be ruled out. Kickoff against the Panthers is set for noon on Saturday and can be streamed online on the OVC Digital Network or heard on the Gamecocks Sports Network on 91.9 WLJS.