Playoff preview: Wofford at Jacksonville State
By Andrew Gaddess, FCS Assistant
Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) -
FCS SECOND ROUND:(7) WOFFORD AT (8) JACKSONVILLE STATE
Kickoff: Saturday, Dec. 4, noon ET
Facts & Figures: Site: Burgess-Snow Field at JSU Stadium (24,000) -- Jacksonville, Alabama. Surface: Pro Grass Artificial. Television: ESPN Game Plan/ESPN3.com. Announcers: Justin Kutcher, Warrick Dunn. Home Record: Wofford 5-0; Jacksonville State 5-0. Away Record: Wofford 4-2; Jacksonville State 4-2. Series Record: Jacksonville State (2-0). Last Meeting: November 2, 1991, Jacksonville State, 51-7 at Jacksonville State. Series Streak: Jacksonville State has won both meetings. Conference: Wofford - Southern; Jacksonville State - Ohio Valley. Nicknames: Wofford Terriers; Jacksonville State Gamecocks. Sports Network/Fathead.com Ranking: Wofford (7); Jacksonville State (8). Head Coaches: Wofford - Mike Ayers (154-106-1 at Wofford, 164-127-2 Overall); Jacksonville State - Jack Crowe (74-47 at Jacksonville State, 88-77 Overall). All-Time Record: Wofford (472-470-36); Jacksonville State (481-330-40). Playoff Records: Wofford (3-3); Jacksonville State (0-2). Previous FCS Playoff Appearances: Wofford 3 (2003, 07-08); Jacksonville State 2 (2003-04).
What to know: The Wofford Terriers claimed a share of the Southern Conference championship this season, along with an at-large bid and a first-round bye. As with years past, it is the Terriers' running game that takes them places. Fullback Eric Breitenstein has thrived in the time-tested triple option, racking up 1,359 rushing yards and 20 touchdowns. Mitch Allen is the primary signal-caller and also the team's second-leading rusher (58.5 ypg). Mike Rucker (41.2 ypg) and Donovan Johnson (34.9 ypg) are also legitimate threats for the nation's No. 1 rushing attack (310.8 ypg). The Terriers attempted just 94 passes on the year (933 yds, 11 TDs), but in this system, it pays to be one-dimensional.
The defense's strength, on the other hand, comes against the pass. The Terriers rank No. 10 in the FCS in passing defense (158.6 ypg). Tommy Irvin paces the unit with four interceptions and Ameet Pall terrorizes opposing quarterbacks, registering 12.5 sacks (No. 5 FCS) and 19.5 tackles for loss (No. 7 FCS). That is not to imply that the Terriers struggle against the run. They allow a respectable 127.3 yards per game in the run-heavy SoCon and rank No. 15 in the nation in scoring defense (19.0 ppg). It is a balanced unit overall.
Although the Jacksonville State Gamecocks earned an at-large bid and a first- round bye, they enter the playoffs having lost two of three. An unexpected, 35-24 loss to Tennessee Tech on Nov. 20 cost them the OVC title.
The Gamecocks' signature win this season came all the way back in Week 1, when they defeated Ole Miss of the FBS, 49-48, in a double-overtime thriller. From there, the Gamecocks reeled off seven more wins before their late-season mini-slide.
The Gamecocks employ two quarterbacks within a balanced system. Marques Ivory, the primary signal-caller, has thrown for 2,078 yards and 17 touchdowns. He is spelled by surprising Coty Blanchard, who was recently named the OVC Freshman of the Year. Blanchard, a versatile athlete, has thrown for 298 yards and eight touchdowns, and run for 282 yards and two touchdowns, while also handling punting duties. Receiver Jeffrey Cameron (61.0 receiving ypg, 5 TDs) and running back Jamal Young (8 TDs) are significant threats for an offense which averages 33.8 yards per game (No. 10 FCS).
While the offense has been steady, the defense has struggled to contain teams, allowing 25.7 points per game (No. 68 FCS). Recently the run defense has been especially porous, which should be particularly alarming given Saturday's opponent. The Gamecocks give up 151.7 yards per game on the ground, but in the last three weeks they have allowed 186 rushing yards per game and nine rushing touchdowns.
Of those three games, the Gamecocks did nab one important victory, a 29-27 decision over eventual OVC champ Southeast Missouri State, which runs an option attack (like Wofford) and boasts the No. 3 rushing offense in the FCS (271.09 ypg). The win should buoy the Gamecocks' spirits as they look ahead to Saturday.
Still, it is likely that the FCS' best ground attack will be able to exploit JSU's struggling run defense.
Prediction: Wofford, 27-23
12/03 10:14:06 ET