Jacksonville State goes about its business as Ohio Valley force
(STATS) – For all that Jacksonville State has accomplished on the football field in the recent past and present, the program has just as impressively found a way to remain humbled and focused.
“I feel good about where we are,” third-year coach John Grass said.
He certainly should.
Grass' Gamecocks are 8-1, and at 5-0 in the Ohio Valley Conference, need two more wins to record a third consecutive undefeated league season. They've won 22 consecutive OVC games dating to a 52-14 loss at Eastern Illinois on Nov. 16, 2013 – the nation's longest active conference streak. Jacksonville State will also try for its 30th straight regular-season victory over a non-FBS opponent when it visits surging Murray State (4-5, 4-2) on Saturday.
Second in the STATS FCS Poll, the Gamecocks sit atop the FCS Championship Committee playoff rankings for a second consecutive week.
“It is good to have that respect around the country, but we can't let it get in our heads,” senior offensive lineman Casey Dunn said. “We have to go out there and play our game and hopefully hit our stride going in to the playoffs.”
But the Gamecocks rarely look ahead.
A victory over Murray would give Jacksonville State a share of the league title with second-place UT Martin (6-4, 5-1) waiting to conclude the regular season next weekend.
“We know what the task is at hand and that is the next game,” defensive back Jaylen Hill said.
The focus also will be to jump-start an offense that was held to its fewest points against FCS competition all season with last weekend's 17-10 win over Southeast Missouri. Jacksonville State did all its scoring in the first half and failed to record at least 400 total yards for the third time in four games.
Good thing the Gamecocks are allowing an FCS-low 253.7 yards per contest and are ninth yielding an average of 17.4 points.
That unit could be in for a significant test against the Racers, who have averaged 39.7 points during a three-game winning streak that included victories over then-ranked teams in Eastern Illinois and Tennessee State. Last weekend's 41-28 win at Eastern Kentucky marked the first time since 2004 that Murray beat the Colonels on the road.
This matchup also pits two of top quarterbacks in FCS in Jacksonville State's Eli Jenkins and the Racers' KD Humphries. Both seniors also happen to hail from Alabama.
Jenkins, who was recruited by Murray State coach Mitch Stewart, has thrown for a school-record 7,147 yards in his career. Humphries is fourth in OVC history with 70 touchdown passes – 20 of which he's thrown this season – and has a big fan in Grass.
“It's fun to see an Alabama guy go there and see the success that he has had,” Grass said. “He does a good job of making decisions, he knows where he is going with the ball, he gets the ball out quickly and protects the football. He is a good football player and our defense has their work cut out for them it week.”
Jacksonville State is 11-2 all-time against the Racers, who last won four in a row in 2004.