Where: JSU Stadium, Jacksonville
Radio: 91.9 FM (Jacksonville), 97.9 FM (Oxford)
1. Home opener: It’s been a while since new Jacksonville State coach Bill Clark has seen a game at JSU — maybe since his undergrad days when he roomed with offensive coordinator John Grass — but he will have a front-row seat Saturday as the Gamecocks play their first home game of his coaching tenure. The Gamecocks are 46-18-3 in JSU Stadium openers and have won seven straight since the famous “do-over” loss to No. 2 Furman in 2005. The last three have been thrillers, all decided by four points or fewer.
2. To the Max: Because of his play last week at Alabama State, junior Max Shortell will be out first with the JSU offense. Shortell completed 13 of 23 passes for 216 yards and two touchdowns for a 155.41 passer rating in his Jax State debut. He will be the Gamecocks’ 12th starting quarterback since moving to Division I. Redshirt freshman Eli Jenkins hurt his hand on his second play last week, but tests were negative, and he’ll be available when/if needed. With that setup, the snap sequence will be center Max Holcombe to Max Shortell.
3. Special teams: JU took an early upper hand on Delaware last week with some opportunistic special teams play. The Dolphins created two turnovers in the kicking game and converted both into touchdowns for a 14-0 first-quarter lead. The Gamecocks, meanwhile, had some glitches on their special teams with Telvin Brown fielding two kicks inside the 10, fumbling one away, and interfering with a fair catch as a gunner. “I don’t think he’ll do it again,” Clark said.
4. On the run: Both teams would like to get their running game going. The Gamecocks have two dynamic backs in Damarcus James and Troymaine Pope, but the managed only 108 yards rushing in the opener. The Dolphins had minus-37 rushing yards against Delaware. The Gamecocks have held 49 teams below 100 rushing yards since moving to Division I. They are 42-7 in those games, 11-0 when holding teams to 52 yards or less.
JU quarterback Kade Bell vs. JSU defense: Bell is the son of the JU coach, former Florida quarterback Kerwin Bell. He’s not quite a chip off the old block — Kerwin was a pocket passer, while Kade can do a little more on the run — but he is a thrower nonetheless. JSU’s defense saved the Gamecocks in their opener. It held Alabama State to three field goals on drives and stopped two possessions in the fourth quarter to preserve the wins. They did give up two touchdowns, but both came on “drives” of 10 yards or fewer.
Because the Gamecocks won their season opener, Clark has the chance to join J.W. Stephenson and Jim Fuller as the only coaches in JSU history to win their first two games as its coach. Fuller won his first five. Just as might happen when Jax State plays up to an FBS opponent, JU likely will hang in the game early, but the Gamecocks’ depth should come to the fore and give them a 2-0 start for the first time since 2010. ... Jax State 38, Jax U 14.