#4 Jacksonville State FCS Football 2019 Preview

Jacksonville State Gamecocks
Overall Rank: #4
#1 Ohio Valley
Jacksonville State Logo
By Jacksonville State standards, the 2018 campaign was a bit disappointing. The Gamecocks entered the playoffs with three losses. In the previous four seasons under Coach John Grass, Jacksonville State had just one regular season loss in each campaign. And their impressive 36 game conference win streak came to an end at the hands of Southeast Missouri. The good news is that this might be the most talented team Coach Grass has had, and that includes a squad that went to the national championship game.
2018 Record: 9-4, 7-1
2018 Postseason: FCS Playoffs
Coach: John Grass (52-12 at Jacksonville State, 52-12 overall)
Offensive Coordinator: Jimmy Ogle
Defensive Coordinator: William Green, Owen Kilgore
Returning Leaders:
Rushing: Jaelen Greene, RB, 723 yards
Passing: Zerrick Cooper, QB, 3,416 yards
Receiving: Josh Pearson, WR, 1,123 yards
Tackles: Jalen Choice, LB, 88
Sacks: Tre’ Treat, DE, 5.0
Interceptions: Traco Williams, S, 4
Other Key Returnees: RB Michael Matthews, QB Zion Webb, WR Jamari Hester, TE Trae Berry, WR Daniel Byrd, OL Darius Anderson, OL Hunter Sosebee, S Marlon Bridges, LB Christian Wafford, CB Yul Gowdy, CB Jacquez Payton, CB Malik Feaster
Key Losses: OL Tyler Scozzaro, OL BJ Autry, DL Connor Christian, LB Quan Stoudemire, DL Randy Robinson
The Gamecocks ranked fifth in the FCS with nearly 500 yards in total offense. The offensive line has a couple holes to fill, but the rest of the unit returns pretty much intact. Quarterback Zerrick Cooper threw for 3,416 yards and 32 touchdowns last year and all of his favorite targets are back. Josh Pearson caught 67 passes for 1,123 yards and 17 touchdowns, while Jamari Hester added 59 receptions for 864 yards and 11 trips to the end zone. And then there is Trae Berry, one of the top tight ends in the FCS. The top four rushers are back too, including Cooper and fellow quarterback Zion Webb. Jaelen Greene and Michael Matthews are the traditional backs and combined to rush for 1,142 yards in 2018. Jacksonville State scored 40 points per game last season and this group has all the tools to better that already impressive total.
The offense actually carried Jacksonville State last season. Traditionally it has been the defense that has done that. The defense was not bad last year at all and the turnovers were a big reason why the Gamecocks gave up 24.8 points per game last season. That is not good by their standards. The front line needs to be more consistent getting to the quarterback and much of that will fall on Tre’ Threat, who tallied 5.0 sacks last season. Linebacker Christian Wafford will get into the backfield too and Jalen Choice led the team with 88 tackles and 12.0 tackles-for-loss. The secondary returns a bevy of talent. Safety Traco Williams intercepted a team high four passes and Marlon Bridges was second on the team with 69 tackles. With cornerbacks Yul Gowdy, Jacquez Payton and Malik Feaster also returning, throwing on Jacksonville State will be extremely difficult.
The Bottom Line:
If Jacksonville State can avoid mistakes, they will make huge strides in 2019. Turnovers were a massive problem last year and that led to many of their losses. The year of experience across the board should help in that regard. This team should cruise through the Ohio Valley Conference without too many problems. Both Southeast Missouri and Eastern Kentucky come to Jacksonville and those should be the toughest teams in the conference. The more interesting contests come in non-conference games against Chattanooga and Eastern Washington. That game against the Eagles will reshape the very top of the rankings for quite some time and give us an early indication of who will be the favorites along with North Dakota State and James Madison to win it all in 2019.
Projected Postseason: FCS Playoffs
2018 Team Stats:
Rushing Offense: 200.1 (31st in nation, 3rd in conference)
Passing Offense: 297.2 (10, 2)
Total Offense: 497.3 (5, 1)
Scoring Offense: 40.0 (7, 1)
Rushing Defense: 129.0 (24, 1)
Pass Defense: 182.3 (18, 1)
Total Defense: 311.3 (15, 1)
Scoring Defense: 24.8 (37, 1)
Turnover Margin: -0.54 (96, 5)
Sacks: 2.08 (61, 2)
Sacks Allowed: 1.77 (46, 2)
HERO Sports 2019 Recruit Rankings:
#39 Brandon Hudgins
#41 Edwaed Gipson
#143 Nathan Sapp
#155 Laletia Hale
#236 Dacorrion West