College breakdown: No. 20 Jacksonville State (11-3) at No. 3 Eastern Washington (11-2)
by Al Muskewitz
amuskewitz@annistonstar.com
Dec 13, 2013 | 4195 views |  0 comments | 24 24 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Jacksonville State will play on Eastern Washington's red turf Saturday. (Photo courtesy of Eastern Washington University)
Jacksonville State will play on Eastern Washington's red turf Saturday. (Photo courtesy of Eastern Washington University)
slideshow
When: 3 p.m. today

Where: Roos Field, Cheney, Wash.

Line: Eastern Washington by 8.

TV: ESPN3

Radio: 91.9 FM (Jacksonville), 97.9 FM (Oxford)

Four-down territory

1. Under pressure:
The Gamecocks have been nothing short of relentless in pursuing the quarterback and have recorded 17 of their record 50 sacks in their first two playoff games. They had 11 last week against a McNeese State quarterback who had been dumped only 14 times all season. The combination of heavy pressure from all sides and tight man-to-man coverage has led the assault. Whether they can maintain it against Eastern Washington will be the question. The Eagles have allowed 25 sacks this season, but quarterback Vernon Adams has a knack for getting out of trouble and scrambling around to find an open receiver.

2. Pass the test: The Gamecocks have faced few quarterbacks this year who can throw it as well as Eastern Washington’s Vernon Adams, known throughout the Big Sky Conference as “Big Play VA.” A Walter Payton finalist, he ranks first nationally in passing efficiency, and fourth in passing yards. The good news for the Gamecocks is they’ve been able to handle the upper-level quarterbacks they’ve played this year and for the year are the sixth-best pass defense in the land. Even Eastern Illinois’ Tony Garoppolo, another Payton Award finalist, didn’t light them up the way he’s done so many other teams this season.

3. Underrated: Eastern Washington has built its success on a prolific offense that ranks in the top six nationally in four major statistical categories, but the Gamecocks aren’t overlooking the Eagles’ defense by any stretch. JSU has a highly productive offense of its own and has gotten off to fast starts in virtually every game since its open date, but EWU has given up only 73 points in the first quarter. It’s more of the same in the third, where the Eagles have allowed only 59 points (six in the last seven games — two field goals — and 14 in the last nine).

4. Uncharted territory: The Gamecocks have never been this far in the FCS playoffs — heck, they’ve never been this far West for a game since moving to Division I — while Eastern Washington have been to the quarterfinals seven times. The Eagles are 3-3 in those previous six games, but the last two they’ve won at home. They are playing their ninth straight playoff game at home. They are 7-1 in the previous eight. For what it’s worth, JSU is 6-1 on the road this year.

Key matchup

Eastern Washington receiver Cooper Kupp against the Jacksonville State secondary:
Adams would be the first to say he’s not been able to enjoy the season he has had without the cast of characters around him. Kupp is the leading receiving in the bunch, having set FCS freshman records for catches (81), yards (1,196) and touchdowns (20). He has at least one touchdown catch in every game this season. The Gamecocks, meanwhile, have given up 20 touchdown passes this season and have 12 interceptions.

Prediction

The Gamecocks have been playing some fabulous football the last three weeks. Road teams are 6-10 in the first two weeks of the playoffs, but the combination of Eastern Washington’s playoff experience, dynamic offense, the hostile atmosphere and conditions may prove too much to overcome. ... Eastern Washington 44, JSU 23.
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