EKU football did not give themselves a break on homecoming week, bringing in a Jacksonville State rival who has always given the Colonels problems.
The Colonels offense has put up good numbers this year, and currently ranks number one in the conference in total offense, but Jacksonville State is the number one pass and rushing defense in the conference by a long shot.
EKU is currently 5-3 in OVC play, which puts them fourth in the conference. A win over Jacksonville State would not only help climb the standings, but give the team hope for a playoff run.
WR Devin Borders R-SR
Entire offensive line
It seems odd to not have QB Bennie Coney or RB Ethan Thomas, but Jacksonville State is allowing under 100 yards rushing per game. The Colonels offensive line is going to have to open up holes early and often if the Colonels have any shot at getting their rushing game going. If they can do that, it will take a lot of pressure off Coney and the passing attack.
Devin Borders has been Coney’s top target this year, and for good reason. The 6-6, 217 pound senior is a handful for most teams and is very experienced.
Jacksonville State has a great pass defense and Borders will likely be shadowed by star cornerback Jaylen Hill. However, with EKU’s top three receivers being 6-6, hopefully Borders and the crew can take advantage of their size and make some big plays down the field.
CB Kiante Northington R-SR
LB Jeffery Canady R-JR
The Colonels will have their hands full with a rushing attack from Jacksonville State that is averaging over 250 yards a game on the ground. Northington has not only been great in coverage, but also making plays in the run game. If he can continue to fly around the field and make plays at a high level, it would certainly help the Colonels against the run.
Possibly the most important player for Saturday, is linebacker Jeffery Canady. He is the Colonels leading tackler and the leader of the Colonels second level on defense. The running game for Jax State and their SEC level rushers will either flourish of falter based in the play of the linebacking core, so Canady and the other linebackers must show up.
RB Jared Sanders R-SR
CB Kiante Northington R-SR
The Colonels have not found much success in the punt return game and minimal success in the kick return. Sanders busted a 41 yard return against Tennessee Tech and a couple 20 yard returns, but has yet to reach the endzone.
In a game where a team is less talented and needs a win, a big special teams play can swing a game in their favor if they can break a big one.
Longtime EKU rival Jacksonville State has continued its dominance throughout the 2016 season, ranking second in FCS polls and posting a 5-1 record on the year (with their only loss coming from SEC titan LSU).
The Gamecocks are currently 2-0 in the OVC, defeating Austin Peay and Tennessee Tech—one of EKU’s four losses on the season.
With a plethora of redshirt talent, as well as some top conference transfers on offense, Jacksonville State will prove to be EKU’s toughest conference foe, and win is necessary for the Colonels to secure to place in playoff conversations.
QB Eli Jenkins, R-Sr
RB Josh Clemons, R-Sr, UK Tranfer
RB Roc Thomas, Jr, Auburn Transfer
Eli Jenkins was named 2015 OVC Male Athlete of the Year, 2016 Preseason All-American and 2016 Preseason OVC Offensive Player of the Year. Jenkins is a 6’2, 210 versatile quarterback who has dominated EKU every time he has faced them.
The Gamecocks are a perfect 6-0 when Jenkins passes and rushes for 100 yards in a game, but even if the Colonels are able to stop his run game, transfer running backs Josh Clemons and Roc Thomas will be a force to be reckoned with. The two SEC talents have murdered defenses—especially OVC defenses—throughout the season.
Clemons and Thomas have 279 yards on 49 carries against OVC opponents, opening up the pass game Eli Jenkins. The Colonels will have to step up run defense to minimize Jenkins’ options throughout the game.
DE Darius Jackson, R-Jr:
CB Jaylen Hill, R-Sr:
Darius Jackson and Jaylen Hill are the Gamecocks’ top NFL prospects, and can prove to be detrimental to the already off-balanced EKU offense in not detained.
Jackson will likely wreak havoc for left tackle Justin Adekoya and the rest of the offensive line, so QB Bennie Coney’s ability to scramble will be vital for the Colonels. CB Jaylen Hill will likely stay with EKU’s best receiving option Devin Borders, hopefully opening up the field for Ryan Markush and Dan Crimmins.
WR Josh Barge, R-Sr:
While Jax State’s running backs get most of the press, wide receiver Josh Barge has continuously made his name known both on offense and kickoff and punt returns. Barge has 8 punt returns for 133 yards, and can equal out the damage EKU’s Keith Wrzuszczak puts on opposing teams.