School: Jacksonville State University
Location: Jacksonville, Alabama
Conference: Ohio Valley Conference (FCS)
The Michigan State football team opens up the 2014 season against FCS opponent Jacksonville State under the Friday night lights at Spartan Stadium. Let’s take a look at the Gamecocks of Jacksonville State.
Head Coach: John Grass
Grass is in his first year as head coach of JSU after serving as the team’s offensive coordinator last year. With Grass at the helm of the offense last year the team set 49 school records including total offense, points scored and touchdowns. Grass is a JSU alum and takes over for Bill Clark who is now the head coach at UAB.
Jacksonville State went 11-4 last year and made it to the FCS quarterfinals before losing to Eastern Washington. They finished the season ranked 10th, their highest final season ranking in school history.
The Gamecocks averaged 35.2 points per game and 442.5 yards of total offense last year with their quick strike, up-tempo offense including 24 scoring drives of less than a minute.
On defense JSU allowed 23.6 points per game and 381 yards against. They held opponents to less than 200 yards of passing on average but gave up 197.7 yards rushing per game.
Jacksonville State comes into the season ranked 8th in the FCS Coaches Poll and 6th in the Sports Network Poll. They were picked to win the Ohio Valley Conference by the league’s coaches and sports information directors.
The Gamecocks offensive attack starts with senior running back DaMarcus James. James was an All-American last year and was one of 20 players named to the Walter Payton Award pre-season watch list for this year. The Walter Payton Award is given to the FCS’s most outstanding player. Last year James set school records with 1,477 rushing yards, 29 rushing touchdowns and 174 total points.
At quarterback for JSU will be sophomore Eli Jenkins, who was a freshman All-American last year. Jenkins started eight games as a red-shirt freshman and was a dual threat for the Gamecocks offense. Jenkins threw for 887 yards and three touchdowns while completing 60% of his passes. He also ranked second on the team with 953 rushing yards.
Like Michigan State, JSU returns many of their top receivers from a year ago. Sophomore Josh Barge leads the way after hauling in 58 catches for 885 yards last year, earning him freshman All-America honors.
On defense Jacksonville State returns six starters. Defensive lineman Caleb Lawrence and Chris Landrum were named to the Ohio Valley’s pre-season All-Conference Team. Lawrence led the team with 11 tackles for loss last year and picked up 5.5 sacks. Landrum, an Auburn transfer, tallied 10.5 tackles for loss and four sacks.
The Gamecocks defense will also get a boost with the addition of LaMichael Fanning, a transfer from Alabama. Fanning will be in his first year with JSU but has already been named a pre-season third team All-American by The Sports Network.
Jacksonville State wide receivers coach Nick Williams is the son of former Michigan State head coach Bobby Williams. Nick is in his first year as a coach with JSU after serving as a graduate assistant at Valdosta State.
Jacksonville State has a very good offense under Coach Grass that should serve as a good warm up test for the Spartans with Oregon looming next week. JSU employs a similar type of “hurry up” style as what the Ducks will use so this will be a great opportunity for MSU to get used to that style of play and find out what adjustments they need to make before heading to Eugene next week.
Michigan State should be able to have their way offensively with Jacksonville State, especially on the ground. I expect to see a heavy dose of Jeremy Langford early and some of the other running backs should get an opportunity as well. Look for Connor Cook to spread the ball around on offense to a variety of receivers before giving way to Tyler O’Connor later in the game.