Sam Houston State faces its toughest foe of the season this week, when they head to No. 1 Jacksonville State for an FCS semifinal matchup on Saturday at 4 p.m. ET. The winner advances to the FCS championship game against North Dakota State on Jan. 9 in Frisco, Texas.
The Bearkats dealt Colgate a 48-21 loss last week at home to gain the semifinal. JSU earned its ticket with an equally convincing 58-38 win over No. 8 Charleston Southern.
For the Bearkats, they have the memory of last year’s 36-27 playoff victory on the road over the Gamecocks to build on, but they also arrive at Burgess-Snow Field this year to face an even better JSU (12-1) team than last year’s 10-2 squad. The Gamecocks’ only loss in 2015 was 27-20 in overtime at Auburn.
Sam Houston is also improved, in part due to talented transfers, including redshirt sophomore quarterback Jeremiah Briscoe, and running backs Jalen Overstreet and Corey Avery.
Briscoe was part of a UAB football program that was briefly shuttered in late 2014 before the university announced earlier this year that it would be reinstated. He was caught in between the statements, and in short order left Birmingham and made Huntsville his next college home.
“We found out the week before finals started last year that the program was being shut down. So we had to get out of apartment leases and study for finals before Christmas. The week after New Year’s I decided to come to Sam Houston. I’d never even been on campus before,” said Briscoe.
He had been through the recruiting process in high school — Florida, Western Kentucky and South Alabama expressed interest in him — but this was a much tighter time frame to go through a ritual that only bore a slight resemblance to the recruiting of his high school days.
“I wanted to find a place that I was close to home, and Sam Houston ran an offense that fit what I could do. It was also a place that I felt we could win a championship. They had all those things, so it really wasn’t a hard decision,” added Briscoe, a Houston native.
He presently platoons behind center with junior Jared Johnson. The two work in tandem through the airways, combining for just under 4,000 yards passing and adding 32 TDs. Johnson has added another five scores on the ground.
“Nothing is really set in stone each week,” said Briscoe, when asked if he typically knows when he’ll get snaps. “It’s really just the feel of the game and what we want to do each drive. The quarterback position is something that we can change really fast without skipping a beat, and it’s something that gives the defense different things to look at,” he added.
Head coach K.C. Keeler admits he’s not a fan of a two-quarterback system, but still uses it to great success. “I’m not a believer in it. I think if you have two you have none. But, I have two. So, I’ve learned to adapt, and at my age that’s sometimes difficult to do [laughing],” he said. “We have two starting quarterbacks. We’re able to play two quarterbacks because both of them just care about winning,” he added.
The Bearkats also head into Jacksonville with Jalen Overstreet, a redshirt junior who played both running back and quarterback for the Texas Longhorns in 2013. He was later dismissed from the Longhorns for an undisclosed violation of team rules and transferred to Sam Houston State.
Coach K.C. Keeler spoke of Overstreet’s efforts on the field: “Jalen shares time with Corey [Avery]. Corey’s one of the best backs in the country and that’s just a credit to Jalen that he never complains. When his turn is called he’ll go.”
Avery is a sophomore who transferred from Kansas and has 1,411 yards and 15 touchdowns this season. Overstreet is second on the team in rushing with 809 yards and seven touchdowns.
Overstreet echoes his coach’s sentiment as far as playing time. “We have so many really, really good athletes on this team. You’re never concerned about whether you’re going to contribute. All our running backs here are supportive of each other. That’s a big motivating factor and it pushes you to do better,” said Overstreet.
The former Texas running back is a great-nephew of David Overstreet, the one-time Oklahoma star and Miami Dolphins player who was tragically killed in a car crash 31 years ago.
As to his football family, which includes his father David, a former running back at Baylor, and his cousin, current Oakland Raiders receiver Denarius Moore, he doesn’t feel any added pressure to live up to the family name, and legacy.
“There’s not really any pressure to it. Our family is very competitive. Not necessarily pressuring, but very competitive. Whoever comes next wants to be better than the guy before him,” said Overstreet.
As to the game plan this week against Jacksonville State, it’s one that has protecting the ball as its central tenet and the transfer quarterback Briscoe knows it.
“We have to play mistake-free football and then we can beat anybody. Jacksonville State’s got a great team; they’re great up front and they have athletes on the back-end,” said Briscoe. “For us, the most important thing is we can’t make mistakes and give them extra opportunities to score,” he added.
Coach Keeler is eager to find out just how much his team still has in it in 2015.
“To play Jacksonville State – these guys are really good – it’s going to be fun to see just how good we are,” said Keeler.
Above: Redshirt junior running back Jalen Overstreet shares time in the backfield with Corey Avery and are a dynamic 1-2 punch. (Courtesy Sam Houston State Athletics)
Middle: Quarterback Jeremiah Briscoe transferred from UAB when that football program was briefly shut down in 2014. (Courtesy Sam Houston State Athletics)