Where: Tucker Stadium, Cookeville, Tenn.
Radio: 91.9 FM (Jacksonville), 97.9 FM (Oxford)
1. Well-rested, at least one: Jacksonville State is coming off an open date everyone in the program says couldn’t have come a better time. In addition to recharging for the home stretch, the open date gave a chance for most of the 14 players on JSU’s injured list to heal. Receivers Markis Merrill (hip) and Dalton Screws (collarbone) are out, but the off time has given quarterback Max Shortell (knee) the chance to be available. Tech, meanwhile, is playing for the ninth straight week. The Golden Eagles don’t have their open date until the week before their final game. Under the old staff, Jacksonville State struggled coming off their open date. Here’s a chance to start a new tradition.
2. Another homecoming: For the third game in a row, the Gamecocks are playing in somebody’s homecoming. They spoiled Tennessee-Martin’s special day three weeks ago and had their own spoiled two weeks ago by No. 24 Tennessee State. Tech is 42-38-1 on its homecoming, but has lost its last three. The Gamecocks have been Tech’s homecoming opponent only once, winning 41-17 in 2008.
3. Getting people back: Injuries have really taken their toll on Tennessee Tech’s offense. The Golden Eagles are eighth in the Ohio Valley Conference in total offense (105th nationally) and eighth in rushing. Last week, they were held to 200 total yards and have been held under 100 yards rushing three of the last four games. They won’t have their top receiver, Cody Matthews, who suffered a second concussion after being “targeted” by an Eastern Kentucky defender, but they expect to get back quarterback Darian Stone and receiver Zack Ziegler. Stone has played only three quarters in Tech’s four OVC games but began throwing this week after missing essentially the last two games with a severe cut on his throwing hand.
4. Very special teams: The game features the two best kicking games in the OVC. Tech punter Chad Zinchini is the league’s best and ranked second nationally (47.2 average), while JSU’s Hamish MacInnes is second in the league (42.5). JSU kicker Griffin Thomas is the league’s best kicker (16 of 20 field goals), while Tech’s Zach Sharp is third (7 of10). They’re both perfect on extra points. The Gamecocks’ placement game is facing a bit of a shakeup. With Screws out, their holder becomes either MacInnes or backup quarterback Kyle West.
JSU return team vs. Tech punter Chad Zinchini: The Georgia media corps would chuckle when former Georgia coach Vince Dooley seemed over the top in his praise for a struggling Vanderbilt team’s punter. Watson Brown coached that Vandy team and he has another punter worth gushing over at Tech. Zinchini keeps the Golden Eagles in games, pinning opponents deep.
Jacksonville State is rested and, as nose tackle Caleb Lawrence said, “ready to get back in the saddle.” Tennessee Tech is wearing down. Sounds like an easy formula. ... Jacksonville State 30, Tennessee Tech 22.