Where: Louis Bonnette Field at Cowboy Stadium, Lake Charles, La.
Line: McNeese State by 7.5.
Radio: 91.9 FM (Jacksonville), 97.9 FM (Oxford)
1. Teeing off: The Gamecocks’ defense hardly gave Samford room to breathe last week. JSU brought a heavy rush on quarterback Andy Summerlin on almost every down and forced the Southern Conference Offensive Player of the Year into 7-of-24 passing for 81 yards. The Gamecocks sacked him six times, running their season total to a school-record 39.5. McNeese quarterback Cody Stroud is the Southland Conference Offensive Player of the Year. He has thrown for 2,680 yards and 27 touchdowns, but has been intercepted only five times and sacked only 14.
2. In the rough: The Gamecocks have never beaten McNeese State in seven previous meetings, six while they were members of the Southland Football League. Home teams won five of the eight games in last week’s opening round of the FCS playoffs. JSU ended a three-game playoff losing streak last week with its first postseason win since the 1992 Division II national championship game. McNeese is looking to end a lengthy playoff drought, having not won a game since 2002, when it played for the national title.
3. Fore, please: Well, four. Keep an eye on the teams’ main returners. It’ll be easy, both wear No. 4. JSU’s Telvin Brown returned last week after missing the previous two games with injuries and had a monster game. His punt and kickoff return averages would lead the OVC if he had enough attempts to qualify. McNeese’s Diontae Spencer, who needs six catches for 100 this season, had three return touchdowns and 365 all-purpose yards against Stephen F. Austin last month.
4. It’s in the hole: Both teams would like to establish the running game, and the two leading rushers on each team are hovering around the combined 2,000-yard mark. JSU’s DaMarcus James and quarterback Eli Jenkins have combined for 2,042 yards and 33 touchdowns, while McNeese’s Marcus Wiltz and Kelvin Bennett have combined for 1,965 and 15 touchdowns. James needs 114 yards to set JSU’s single-season rushing record.
McNeese’s offensive line vs. JSU’s pressure: The Gamecocks bring pressure from everywhere and have kept opposing quarterbacks on the run all year long. McNeese, meanwhile, returned only one starter up front — right guard Arinze Agada — but after moving two defensive linemen over to fill the gaps, the five-man unit has started all 12 games and helped the Cowboys establish one of the most potent offenses in the country.
Both teams are capable of putting up a lot of points. If the Gamecocks can slow down McNeese’s scoring machine just enough they could advance to play either South Dakota State or at No. 3 seed Eastern Washington, but home teams tend to have an advantage in the playoffs. That may be the difference in what’s expected to be difficult playing conditions. ... McNeese State 35, Jacksonville State 34.