Charleston Southern-Jacksonville St. Preview
(STATS) – John Grass doesn't have any problem drawing attention to his top-ranked Jacksonville State program. So, the coach's eagerness to showcase his team under the Friday night lights is understandable.
Though Charleston Southern could be down to its third-string quarterback, it also has good reason to believe it's worthy of some prime-time love.
With a trip to the FCS semifinals on the line, the No. 8 seed Buccaneers visit Grass' top-seeded Gamecocks.
“Our student body and fans have begged for a night game, so we have it here … and I can't wait to see our crowd,” said Grass, who has often challenged the student body and the town's residents to show up and support his team.
Jacksonville State (11-1) last kicked off an evening game at the 24,000-seat Burgess-Snow Field on Nov. 30, 2013, when it rolled to a 55-14 first-round playoff victory over Samford. In front of a national television audience this week, the Gamecocks put their FCS-best 10-game winning streak on the line while trying to reach the semifinals for the first time.
“It's like a four-hour commercial for us,” Grass said, “… but it goes back to how we play.”
That's because ninth-ranked Charleston Southern (10-2) is also undefeated against FCS competition. The Buccaneers don't seem to care that both of their defeats came in the state of Alabama – 44-16 to Troy on Sept. 12 and 56-6 to the Crimson Tide in the regular-season finale.
“We have a great opportunity and a great challenge before us, going to play the No. 1 team in the country in the FCS,” said spirited coach Jamey Chadwell, whose team beat in-town rival The Citadel 14-6 last week in its playoff debut.
“They have a great team and deserve that No. 1 ranking, but we feel good about where our team is. We feel we can go down there and win the game. Our team's got a great confidence about them and we're looking forward to playing well.”
Chadwell conveys that belief even with starting quarterback Austin Brown and backup Kyle Copeland deemed doubtful earlier in the week with injuries that forced both to leave against The Citadel.
In line to start, junior Daniel Croghan played three games during the regular season and saw action for the first time since Oct. 24 on Saturday. He went 3 of 6 for 37 yards while successfully managing the offense.
Junior Mike Holloway helped the cause with scoring runs of 41 and 32 yards in the second quarter, and finished with 120 on 13 carries.
“If we have to go with Danny, we'll find a way to get him comfortable and make some plays from the throwing game and maybe do some different things in the running game,” said Chadwell, whose 75th-ranked offense's 199 total yards were its fewest against FCS competition in 2015.
“Whoever is under center, our guys will have confidence and we'll find a way to move the ball and score on them.”
Throughout the regular season that might have seemed like a daunting task against a Gamecocks defense that allowed an average of 277.1 yards and held six opponents to 13 points or fewer. However, JSU yielded 444 total yards and a season-high 244 rushing in Saturday's 41-35 overtime victory over Chattanooga.
The Gamecocks rank fourth in the FCS with 514.4 yards per game and set season highs of 432 rushing and 640 overall to beat the Mocs despite blowing a 14-point second-half lead.
Eighth in the FCS with 1,326 rushing yards, Gamecocks senior Troymaine Pope ran for a career-high 234 with three touchdowns on 17 carries. His 75-yard score with 4:40 left helped force overtime.
Eli Jenkins, the offensive player of the year in the Ohio Valley Conference, didn't throw a TD but ran 24 times for a career-high 195 yards and scored three times.
“They've got a great quarterback that is pretty dynamic as both a runner and a passer, and they've got great skill around him,” said Chadwell, a finalist for the STATS National Coach of the Year award.
“It's going to be a big challenge for our defense because they have so much more speed than what we saw last week, and some of the best speed you'll see anywhere in FCS.”
But CSU has a defense that ranks second in the FCS allowing 266.6 yards per game. The Bucs gave up 199 rushing yards to The Citadel, though that was 160.3 fewer than the Bulldogs averaged coming in.
“Great defense,” Grass said. “They wouldn't be ranked second if they weren't. They give up very, very few explosive plays.
“We have to play assignment football. We have our work cut out for us.”
- Charleston Southern Buccaneers
- Eli Jenkins
- Jacksonville State Gamecocks
- Kyle Copeland
- Mike Holloway
- Troymaine Pope