FCS playoffs: Jacksonville State ready for return to national TV

Bracket: FCS playoffs

It’s fitting that Jacksonville State’s quarterfinal matchup Friday night against Charleston Southern will be in prime time in front of a national television audience.

It was in front of a national television audience on Sept. 12 that the Gamecocks became part of the national college football discussion.

The Gamecocks took the then sixth-ranked Auburn to overtime before losing 27-20. The Gamecocks out-gained Auburn’s supposed high-powered offense 438 yards to 401. JSU also dominated time of possession.

“We're definitely not satisfied," Gamecocks head coach John Grass said after the near upset. "We felt like we could have won the game. We left some plays out there and we definitely could have won.”

JSU’s part in the national discussion was minuscule though. The discussion centered on how awful the No. 6 team in the country looked, in particular Auburn quarterback Jeremy Johnson. What wasn’t splattered all over Twitter, online message boards and sports talk radio was how good the Gamecocks looked; that it was JSU that made Auburn look so bad.

The quarterback missing from the headlines was JSU’s Eli Jenkins. Jenkins threw for 277 yards, his second-best passing performance of his career. The redshirt junior set career highs in completions (26) and pass attempts (43). With 314 yards of total offense, Jenkins moved into ninth on the school's career total offense list with over 4,800 yards.

The Gamecocks haven’t lost a game since. They are 11-1 and the No. 1 overall seed in the FCS playoffs. It is the first time JSU has held the top spot at any level of football. Their average margin of victory is more than 20 points.

The team isn’t in the top 5 in the FCS in any offensive or defensive statistical category. Nor is there any player in the top 5. Yet they are one of eight teams still in the hunt for a national championship because of consistent, but not eye-popping numbers.

The potent duo of Jenkins and running back Troymaine Pope has played a major part in JSU’s offensive success. Against Auburn Jenkins showed he was a dual threat with big passing numbers. As JSU’s season progressed, the Gamecocks were a 60% run and 40% pass team. The two backfield mates combined for 2,161 rushing yards which accounted for 60% of the Gamecocks rush attack. Jenkins totaled 29 touchdowns, 18 passing and 11 rushing. Pope has 14 rushing touchdowns.

“I never look at the stats,” Jenkins said. “The only time I know is when someone tells me. I’m more about the team and more about winning, that’s all that really matters to me at this moment. I can talk about it, but that wasn’t my goal. Knowing I am up there, that’s great to know, but that’s not my focus.”

On the strength of those numbers though, Jenkins was named Ohio Valley Conference Offensive Player of the Year and Pope was named First Team All-OVC.

“I didn’t know I was going to get it,” Jenkins said. I thought (JSU receiver Josh) Barge was maybe going to get it. If he would’ve got it, I would’ve been happy for him, because I know he was happy for me.”

Barge has nearly half of JSU’s catches with 81. He had 963 receiving yards and 11 touchdowns.

Jenkins is 26-0 in his collegiate career as a starter against non-FBS opponents. Winning a national championship would get him to 29-0. Jenkins will take the championship over the numbers any day.

Above: Jacksonville State Gamecocks quarterback Eli Jenkins (7) and running back Troymaine Pope (24) have been the 1-2 punch behind the offense all season. (Courtesy Jacksonville State)

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