Where: Hardy Graham Stadium in Martin, Tenn.
Radio: 91.9 FM (Jacksonville), 97.9 FM (Oxford)
1. Start strong: The Gamecocks didn’t come out with the defensive intensity coach Bill Clark was looking for last week and fell behind 10-0 in the first quarter and 20-10 at halftime before rallying to send the game into overtime for the third week in a row. Starting slow wouldn’t be advisable this week. UT Martin hasn’t given up a point to its three FCS opponents in the first half this year — two of them were nationally ranked at the time — and ranks second in the OVC in total defense.
2. Play smart: The Gamecocks were hurt by several mistakes last week — four turnovers, two missed field goals, some key drops — and in two of their other four games had big mistakes deep in their own end that allowed opponents to get back in the game. Any errors would only help the Skyhawks, who are last in the OVC in takeaways (five) and turnover margin, and with one loss already in the league, another setback would be devastating for the Gamecocks’ postseason hopes. From his perspective, UTM coach Jason Simpson figures today’s outcome will be determined by who turns it over less.
3. Grab the rope: The Gamecocks have had their share of injuries this season, but each time someone has gone out a backup has come in and performed. You can go down the line — Max Shortell for Eli Jenkins (hand), Kyle West for Shortell (muscle), Josh Barge for Gabe Chambers (hamstring), Dalton Screws for Telvin Brown (ankle), Miles Jones for DaMarcus James (ankle) and Troymaine Pope (shoulder). Continuing to develop quality depth will be key to the Gamecocks’ future success.
4. Don’t be a victim: The Gamecocks are UT Martin’s homecoming opponent, which some folks might consider the ultimate lack of respect. Skyhawks coach Jason Simpson, a former JSU assistant, said he really enjoys the trappings that go with homecoming and his record shows it. Simpson is 5-2 in these games and the Skyhawks have won nine of their last 13. JSU is 4-0 as the Skyhawks’ homecoming foe, most recently winning 59-12 in 2004. Incidentally, the Gamecocks are 5-0 over UTM at their own homecoming, which this year is next week (Tennessee State).
UTM linebacker Ben Johnson vs. JSU’s tight ends and tackles: One year after leading the OVC in tackles (and ranking sixth nationally), Johnson is making a case for OVC Defensive Player of the Year. He leads the league in tackles again this year.
Would anyone be surprised if this one went to overtime? JSU coach Bill Clark has thought all along this was one of the games his team had to get through to be a contender in the league. Now, it has to have it to stay alive. If the Gamecocks don’t do anything to hurt themselves, they could find themselves back on track. ... Jacksonville State 30, Tennessee Martin 23.