For insight into Georgia Tech’s opponent Saturday, we turn to Mark Edwards, sports editor for The Anniston (Ala.) Star, who covers Jacksonville State. You can follow him on Twitter here and read the Star’s coverage of the Gamecocks here.
Q:What’s the most important thing about Jacksonville State that Georgia Tech fans should know?
A: Don’t underestimate the quarterback, Bryant Horn. He has just one career college start, like Georgia Tech’s quarterback, but his teammates have great faith in him and his leadership. The son of a high school coach, Horn is a work in progress, but he’s improved greatly from last fall to the spring and from the spring to this fall. He played linebacker in 2015 before shifting to quarterback, his high school position, and made 24 tackles.
Q: Jacksonville State played its first game Aug. 26, two weeks before Saturday’s game. How have the Gamecocks been able to use the extra preparation time?
A: In the first week after the Chattanooga game, JSU went through its typical schedule before an open date — practices are more physical than usual during the season. The Gamecocks also did some work on Georgia Tech, but precise game planning against specific personnel had to wait until they saw Tech’s game Monday night.
Q: Is a big game from running back (and Auburn transfer) Roc Thomas Jacksonville State’s best chance for an upset?
A: Yes, but then again, having a big year from Thomas is important to Jacksonville State’s hopes of winning the Ohio Valley Conference for a fourth straight time. Thomas is healthy, and when he is, he’s an awfully explosive runner. It’s interesting to speculate what he would’ve done had he remained at Auburn.
Q: Where are the Gamecocks most susceptible?
A: Obviously, it’s the scholarship limitations. FCS schools have a limit of 63 scholarships compared to 85 for FBS programs. It might seem as if 63 is plenty when you can have only 11 on the field at one time, but Jacksonville State, like many other programs these days, likes to rotate plenty of people in the game, especially on defense. The Gamecocks have fewer people to rotate in and out than an FBS team.
Q: The Jacksonville State defense was fourth in total defense last year in FCS and first in defensive third-down efficiency. Who and what makes that unit work?
A: It’s a senior-dominated group, and I could name 10 to 12 players who are important keys, but I’ll limit it to three — defensive end Darius Jackson, linebacker Joel McCandless and safety Marlon Bridges. Jackson is a bit smaller than an FBS defensive end, but he holds the school record for most career yards on tackles behind the line. McCandless is the consummate leader and probably Jacksonville State’s most enthusiastic player. Bridges led the team in tackles last year, and I’m sure he’ll enjoy testing himself against a Georgia Tech running game that is one of the best in the nation.