Where: JSU Stadium, Jacksonville
Radio: 91.9 FM (Jacksonville), 97.9 FM (Oxford)
1. Lot on the line: The game today carries postseason implications for both teams with the loser presumably falling out of playoff consideration. JSU would have only its third loss of the year, but would drop out of the OVC title race and has No. 2 league-leader Eastern Illinois up next. EKU would absorb only its second league loss, but fourth overall. EKU’s losses have come to No. 20 FBS Louisville, No. 5 Coastal Carolina and No. 2 Eastern Illinois. JSU’s most significant wins have been over FBS upstart Georgia State and then-No. 22 Tennessee-Martin. Presumably, the Gamecocks could win Saturday and lose to EIU next week and still be in the mix.
2. Protect this house: The Gamecocks have played better on the road than at home this season. They are only 2-2 at JSU Stadium, losing to Murray State in overtime and Tennessee State in their last two shots at posting win No. 250 in the place. They average 40 more yards a game at home — but only split those games. EKU is 2-2 on the road this year.
3. On the run: The Gamecocks lost Troymaine Pope after two snaps last week and Miles Jones during the game, and have been hoping for progress during the week. Pope is expected to return, but Jones could be held out. Their absence last week put more pressure on DaMarcus James. The powerful junior delivered five rushing touchdowns, but when he retired in the fourth quarter, the Gamecocks were down to a receiver at running back. It could be tough sledding for any JSU back as EKU leads the OVC in rushing defense.
4. On a roll: Both teams come into the game playing some good football. The Gamecocks are 2-0 since their open date, beating the two winless OVC teams on the road by an average of 26 points. The Colonels are riding a four-game winning streak since being routed by Eastern Illinois 42-7. They’ve held their four opponents to 10 points or less, beating the three worst teams in the league in three of them, and are coming off a 44-0 blanking of TSU.
JSU run game vs. EKU run defense: It’s a classic case of strength against strength. The Colonels lead the Ohio Valley Conference in rushing defense, while the Gamecocks are second in rushing offense (behind EKU) and have the most rushing touchdowns in the league. The Gamecocks lead the league in red zone offense, often going to James on a direct snap in tight. But the Colonels lead the OVC in red zone defense in league games, giving up only five touchdowns (one on the ground).
This has been the toughest JSU game to pick so far. The numbers are close, but the common opponents may provide the biggest insight. ... Eastern Kentucky 28, Jacksonville State 25.