Preview: JSU vs. Tennessee State

It is common practice to schedule an easy win for homecoming. Jacksonville State is not following that practice this season.

The Gamecocks (5-1, 1-1) will host No. 23 Tennessee State (5-1, 2-0) for homecoming on Saturday.

“Anytime you play a conference opponent for Homecoming, it worries me,” head coach Bill Clark said, “because the old mind set of Homecoming is that it is some patsy that you bring in and this is so far from that. This is arguably — if not, the best team that we have played this year.

For the first time this since September 2012, the Gamecocks are ranked in both polls. JSU enters the week ranked No. 24.

“I think at this point in the season being ranked is a compliment to our coaches and players,” said Clark. “We certainly don’t think that we have accomplished everything that we have wanted to up to this point, but being ranked is certainly a compliment.”

While those rankings are flattering, they are based simply on opinions. When it comes to rankings based on statistics, Tennessee State has the No.1 ranked defense in the country.

“It’s another challenge,” Clark said. “Playing the No. 1 defense is daunting, but it should be a challenge that we should embrace and be excited about it.”

While JSU must take the Tigers’ defense seriously, the Tigers would be wise to do the same for the Gamecock offense. The Gamecocks have the No.19  offense and No. 14 rushing offense in the nation. They average 466 total yards per game and 243.3 rushing yards per game.

“We have gained a lot of confidence over the past two weeks and we have still missed some plays up and down the field,” said junior quarterback Max Shortell. “I think we just have to fine-tune those mistakes and be conscious of what stops drives and what is keeping us from scoring a lot of points.  It is going to be exciting to play against the No. 1 defense and it is a challenge.”

The Tigers’ secondary presents the Gamecocks with another challenge. TSU does not start a single defensive back that is under six-feet-tall. Redshirt freshman wide receiver Josh Barge, who is leading the Gamecocks in receiving yards with 351, is ready to accept that challenge.

“My mind set is to just go make plays,” Barge said. “I respect each opponent that we go up against, but I feel like I just have to go out there and give my best.  We just have to make plays.”

Teams often do not take kindly to being scheduled as the other team’s homecoming. Jacksonville State sure did not in its 41-27 victory over Tennessee Martin Saturday. Tennessee State will be no different.

“Last week, us playing their homecoming was a big deal to us,” Clark said. “I can understand It’s probably going to be a big deal to them too. You should see the best from both teams.”

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