After falling short last season, Gamecocks get another shot at the SEC

BY foxsports • September 8, 2016

(STATS) - John Grass has been looking around for a hornet's nest this week.

Not because he wants to chance fate, but due to the way he feels about Jacksonville State walking into Death Valley on Saturday night to play angry and determined No. 21 LSU.

Left stirred and shaken from last weekend's 16-14 loss to previously unranked Wisconsin at Lambeau Field, the Tigers have plenty to prove in their home opener.

Grass knows it.

"It's kind of like sticking our head in a hornet's nest," the Gamecocks coach said. "It's a difficult challenge. We've got to go down there and respond. Handle the stage, handle the environment."

In the eyes of college football's landscape, a FCS program taking down a perennial FBS power is an obvious upset. However, Jacksonville State is the reigning national runnerup and put a scare into then No. 6 Auburn before falling 27-20 in overtime a year ago this month. The Gamecocks are just 5-19 against FBS schools, but did beat Mississippi 49-48 in double overtime in 2010 and left an impression with that effort at Auburn.

A week ago, fellow FCS cronies Eastern Washington, Richmond, Albany and Northern Iowa all defeated FBS schools.

"You say you believe you can win any game you're going into," said Grass, who is 24-4 at Jacksonville State. "Our guys don't really look at who they're playing. It's about how we play. I think if you approach it that way, the guys tend to play better.

"(The game at Auburn) kind of proved what we preach that it's how we play. We just didn't make enough plays at the end to win that game. Hopefully we'll go out and play this week, play good ourselves."

While the Gamecocks have some SEC-caliber talent in transfer running backs Roc Thomas (Auburn) and Josh Clemons (Kentucky), senior quarterback Eli Jenkins is their true heart and soul. The reigning Ohio Valley Conference Player of the Year threw for 230 yards and ran for 101 on 13 carries in last week's 31-12 win over North Alabama to move into fifth place in league history with 8,688 total yards.

"We depend on him all the time," Grass said.

Against Auburn, Jenkins was 26 of 43 for 277 yards with a touchdown and an interception so he's no stranger to playing against some of the best competition in the country.

"It gives us a chance to prove that we can play against anyone and play in front of more folks that would we normally not play in front of with the big crowds," Jenkins told Jacksonville State's official website. "It gives us a chance to show what we got and a great opportunity to play our best football."

Both Thomas, who scored three rushing TDs last weekend, and Clemons experienced the LSU environment during their time in the SEC.

"It is very exciting to play there and from the moment you start to warm up, the fans are on you," Clemons said. "People are out there when the bus pulls up and they will be in to it the whole game, no matter the score. We won't have a problem getting our energy level up."

The Gamecocks are not the only OVC squad matching up with a FBS foe this weekend. On Saturday, Eastern Illinois visits Miami (Ohio) and UT Martin makes the long trek to take on Hawaii.

Ohio Valley teams went 0-5 against the FBS to open this season.