After last Saturday’s blowout of Samford, there is a lot of national championship talk in Jacksonville. Jacksonville State’s next opponent will be arguably their toughest of the season in 6th seed McNeese State of the Southland Conference. With a long ride to Louisiana and playoff nerves, this is going to be a difficult game for the Gamecocks.
Breaking Down the Cowboys
McNeese State finished the regular season with ten wins against an average slate of opponents. McNeese State’s opponents have a combined winning percentage of .458, including 8-3 West Alabama from Division II. The Cowboys started the season with an upset win against South Florida. Other notable wins include a blowout against Central Arkansas and a close win against Sam Houston State.
By the numbers, McNeese State’s multiple offense is phenomenal. The Cowboys rank 12th in the country in offense, finishing their regular season with three 40+ point performances. While the offense is balanced, it revolves around Southland Conference Offensive Player of the Year Cody Stroud. The Cowboy’s quarterback has a great play action fake and makes smart decisions in the pocket. Meanwhile, running back Marcus Wiltz has quietly had a successful season behind all conference lineman Arinze Agada. The result of these key pieces is a well-rounded offense that can attack any part of the field.
The Cowboy’s defense does not match the power of the offense. McNeese State has struggled defending the run and the pass this year, allowing backs to average almost five yards per carry and quarterbacks 250 passing yards per game. In the Cowboy’s 4-2-5 scheme, their leading tacklers are cornerback Aaron Sam and safety Terence Cahee. Both fly to the ball and tackle well in space. Jacksonville State is yet to face this style of defense, and it could be to McNeese State’s advantage.
Jacksonville State is a dangerous team with an electric offense and momentum. The defense holds its own and keeps the Gamecocks in most games. Considering McNeese State’s sub-par defense, I expect JSU to score a lot of points this weekend. But can Bill Clark’s defense, led by safety Brandon Bender, stop the Cowboy’s offense? The last time the Gamecocks faced an offense like this was Tennessee State, arguably JSU’s worst game of the season.
If the game turns into a track meet, I have to give the upper hand to Jacksonville State. With the three-headed rushing attack of DaMarcus James, Troymaine Pope, and Eli Jenkins, the Gamecocks can run the ball as much as they want. This will keep the ball away from Stroud. With McNeese State basing out of a nickel style defense, James could have a field day against the smaller defensive backs. With the Marching Southerners joining the football team for the road trip, McNeese State fans may get tired of hearing the JSU fight song.
Regardless, expect a great game by both teams with the victor emerging in the final moments of the game. Tune into ESPN 3 Saturday at 6 PM CDT to watch the action from Lake Charles, Louisiana.