Where: noon, O’Brien Field, Charleston, Ill.
Radio: 91.9 FM (Jacksonville), 97.9 FM (Oxford)
1. Lot on the line: Eastern Illinois can win its second straight outright Ohio Valley Conference title and grab the league’s automatic bid with a win. JSU can virtually cement a spot in the 24-team playoff field by upsetting the Panthers, but there is nothing to say the Gamecocks are out of it with a loss. It’s not an impossible task. They were driving for a tying field goal last year with virtually the same team when a botched play against the clock at the end killed their shot.
2. Try to keep up: Both teams like to play fast. The Gamecocks are just getting used to playing that way, but the Panthers have perfected it. EIU might be near the bottom nationally in time of possession, but it is first in scoring, averaging 46.3 points, including 47.8 in OVC games. The Panthers run plays at about an 18-second clip, JSU at about 21. The Gamecocks can score quickly as well, producing 27 scoring drives of 1:42 or less (21 offensive touchdowns).
3. Don’t discount the defenses: As prolific as EIU’s offense is, its defense tends to get overlooked. Both teams are a lot alike in that regard — opportunistic with aggressive fronts, deep and experienced linebackers and defensive backs who can cover and play the run. The safety net for the Panthers is if they do give up points — and they’re only giving up 16.8 in OVC play — teams have to outscore them, and that’s no easy trick.
4. Under pressure: JSU leads the OVC in sacks, and its plan is to pressure, hit and disrupt EIU QB Jimmy Garoppolo has much as possible. But it might be easier said than done. The Panthers have yielded only 15 sacks this year because Garoppolo has a quick release, knows how to escape pressure and what to do with the ball when he does get cornered.
EIU receiver Erik Lora vs. JSU running back DaMarcus James: Who gets in the end zone more today? Lora lines up in multiple places on the field, runs a lot of midrange patterns and does a lot after the catch. He leads the FCS with 97 catches and is second in yards. He has 17 touchdown catches and is first on the OVC single season and career (33) TD catch list. James has 19 rushing touchdowns, which ranks third nationally, ties the JSU single-season mark and is two off the OVC record.
JSU is 5-0 on the road this year, while EIU is 9-0 at home over the last two, the third longest active home win streak in the nation. The Gamecocks are 8-37 against ranked FCS teams (1-1 this year) and never beaten a team ranked as high as EIU (2-18 vs. teams inside the top 10). The Gamecocks played their best game of the year last week and routed Eastern Kentucky, but will need to do it again and then some this week. ... EIU 38, JSU 20.