If the Gamecocks wanted to insert themselves into this year’s FCS playoff picture, they had to beat the Colonels – and, for the sake of style points, the bigger the better.
No one expected it to be that big.
The Gamecocks routed the Colonels 68-10, dominating all three phases of the game.
They ran all over the Ohio Valley Conference's best rushing defense and held the league’s best rushing attack to only 111 yards.
Quarterback Eli Jenkins rushed for 120 yards and three touchdowns to earn OVC offensive player and newcomer of the week, while running backs DaMarcus James and Troymaine Pope each ran for two scores. Linebacker Ketrick Wolfe scored a defensive touchdown, the defense had four takeaways and six sacks (two by emerging linebacker Michael Carlisle) and kicker Griffin Thomas boomed a record-tying 52-yard field goal among his 14 points. The OVC tapped Thomas as its special teams player of the week.
“Going back and watching the film, it was what we thought it was,” JSU coach Bill Clark said. “The biggest thing was the urgency, the physicality (and) the emotion all met together. We told them when you put all these together this is what can happen.
“We really tried to look at ourselves and say … what can we do to play our best? Is there anything we can tweak? We did some self-evaluation and look what happens when you respond with energy, emotion and concentration.”
Some people still don’t seem convinced the Gamecocks (8-2, 4-2 OVC) are worthy of playoff consideration.
The Sports Network, recognized for having its finger on the pulse of FCS football, lists Eastern Illinois and Tennessee State as the two OVC reps in its 24-team bracket projection that changes weekly.
TSU replaced EKU in media outlet’s latest guestimate. The Tigers, who did beat JSU a month ago, only beat one of the worst teams in the country to jump back into the bracket – one week after being swamped by the team the Gamecocks annihilated Saturday.
Right now, there are four OVC teams with two league losses and JSU has the fewest overall losses among them. They have league-leading Eastern Illinois and a home date with Southeast Missouri remaining. TSU only has this week’s season finale with Murray State left.
Clark said he hasn’t started looking at the playoff implications in depth.
If playing well at the selection time counts for anything, the Gamecocks have won their last three games by a combined 144-34.
“We’re determined to be in,” he said. “Let’s just take care of what we have to. Let’s just hope we can do the things either to put us in for sure or impress them enough to give us a chance.”
If the Gamecocks can pull a repeat of Saturday this week at EIU, there’s no way to keep them out of the field.
The Panthers (9-1, 6-0) are the No. 2-ranked FCS team in the country worthy of all the adjectives that have been bestowed on them. Behind quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo, they rank No. 1 nationally in total offense and scoring offense and No. 2 in passing offense.
Garoppolo, who Clark is convinced will be “a star at the next level,” is the OVC career leader in total offense, passing yards, completions and touchdown passes. He leads all Division I players (FCS or FBS) with 3,843 passing yards and 40 touchdown passes this season.
He threw for only 299 yards Saturday against Murray State – the first time this year he didn’t pass for 300 yards or more.
The Panthers can clinch the outright OVC title by beating the Gamecocks.
“As big a challenge as we thought last week was, this is double that,” Clark said.
Al Muskewitz covers Jacksonville State sports for The Star. He can be reached at 256-235-3577.