Where: JSU Stadium in Jacksonville
Radio: 91.9 FM (Jacksonville), 97.9 FM (Oxford)
1. Keep the string going: The Gamecocks haven’t lost to the Racers since the first game of the series in 2003. A win today would extend the series winning streak to 10 games and make it the fifth longest streak against one team in the history of the program. The game also is JSU’s conference opener and it’s a fairly important one because league preseason Nos. 1 and 2, Eastern Kentucky and Eastern Illinois, also play each other today. The Gamecocks are 8-2 in Ohio Valley Conference openers.
2. Exploit what you see: The Gamecocks lead the OVC in rushing, while Murray State is last in the league in total defense and rushing defense. The last time a team couldn’t stop the JSU run, the Gamecocks ran for 523 yards and produced four 100-yard rushers in the same game. If the Racers open up the passing lanes to concentrate on the run, the Gamecocks can exploit that, too. In his two best games to date, Max Shortell has thrown for 216 yards against Alabama State and 263 against Georgia State.
3. Stick a fork in them: Life would be much less harrowing for the Gamecocks if they could hold onto a lead. They’ve had double-digit leads in their three closest wins — two entering the fourth quarter — and barely got out with their skin. They led Alabama State 24-9 after a big third quarter, then had to hold on after two turnovers deep in their territory led to touchdowns that cut the lead to two. They led Division II North Alabama 10-0 early and needed double overtime to win. And last week they led 23-9 entering the fourth quarter before two big special teams mistakes got Georgia State back in the game. JSU needed overtime to win.
4. Protect the home field: The Gamecocks are looking for win No. 250 at home since JSU Stadium opened in 1946. They enter today with a mark of 249-96-8. Since joining the OVC in 2003, they have the highest home winning percentage (.782) and most wins (43) in the league. They are 23-4 in their last 27 home games and have won seven straight. Six of their last eight wins that have been secured in the final two minutes or overtime have come at home.
Murray State receiver Walter Powell vs. JSU cornerbacks: Powell is a consensus preseason All-American and Walter Payton Award candidate who is a threat as both a receiver and a return man. He caught nine passes against Florida State last year and had more than 300 all-purpose yards and five touchdowns in a win over Missouri State earlier this season. He hasn’t really hurt the Gamecocks as a receiver during his career, but has broken off some nice returns.
The Gamecocks appear to have enough offense to take advantage of Murray State’s defensive shortcomings and get a boost with senior guard Taylor Johnstone’s return from a four-game NCAA absence. The question becomes can they continue coming up big on defense to hold off the Racers’ potentially explosive offense. The bet here is they should find a way in what promises to be an entertaining game. ... Jacksonville State 36, Murray State 27.