FCS Second Round Preview – Kennesaw State at Jacksonville State

Jacksonville State received a top-three seed in the FCS playoffs in each of the last four seasons, but that hasn’t gone so well for the program.

In 2015, the Gamecocks were the No. 1 overall seed and got to the national championship for the first time in school history before losing to North Dakota State. In both 2014 and 2016, the Gamecocks were upset as the No. 3 overall seed, losing to Sam Houston State and Youngstown State, respectively, by double digits in each of those seasons.

Their opponent in the second round this year will be Kennesaw State, which has a lovable mascot and is looking to keep its Cinderella season alive. The Owls are in just their third year of existence as a program, but they went 10-1 in the regular season and won the Big South. They avenged an earlier loss to Samford by knocking the Bulldogs out in the first round last week, thanks to a dominating performance from their running game.

An interesting tidbit here is that these two programs will play the first football game ever held in SunTrust Park next season.

FCS Second Round Betting Odds
Kennesaw State +9.5
Jacksonville State -9.5
Total 45.5

Matchup to Watch

If Kennesaw State is going to have a chance to win this game, it has to be able to effectively run the ball. The Owls utilize the triple option, and they posted the best rushing numbers in the country this year. They averaged 338.2 rushing yards per game—43 yards more than the next-closest team—and averaged an impressive 5.8 yards per carry.

Last week against Samford, the Owls were able to consistently move the ball on the ground in a 28-17 win over the Bulldogs. They finished with 330 rushing yards but were facing a defense that has struggled at stopping the run all year.

Jacksonville State has no such issues against ground attacks. The Gamecocks had the second-best run defense in the FCS and allowed a shade over two yards per carry this season.

The triple option primarily works because it is a unique offense that teams don’t get a chance to prepare for, but the Gamecocks have two things working in their favor. First, they have had a week off and surely spent some of that time getting ready for this offense just in case they faced Kennesaw State. Second, Jacksonville State has seen the option already this year. The Gamecocks faced Georgia Tech in early September and actually did a good job of shutting it down, holding the Yellow Jackets to just 4.3 yards per carry.

Keep an Eye On…

Unsurprisingly, former Auburn running back Roc Thomas has thrived since coming to Jacksonville State. He has five 100-yard games this season and should pass 1,000 rushing yards on the season this week. Only one team has really stopped him all year—UT Martin—and he has averaged at least 4.8 yards per carry against every other opponent.

You have to give John Grass credit for not overusing Thomas. Many FCS coaches heavily depend on FBS transfers and play them too many snaps, causing them to wear down later in the season. That shouldn’t happen with Thomas, who has yet to carry the ball more than 20 times in a game. He had one of his best performances of the year in the season finale against Tennessee State and will be ready to go for this one.

Prediction

The Owls are a great story. It’s amazing how far they have come in just three years, and they have to be extremely proud. However, the Big South was extraordinarily weak this year and this school’s best non-conference win was against Montana State.

Jacksonville State has looked incredible all season and has some nice victories to its credit. The Ohio Valley was much tougher than anyone gave it credit for and beating Austin Peay, Eastern Illinois and UT Martin was no joke.
I think the Gamecocks are going to totally shut down the Owls triple option and dominate this one from beginning to end. I’d be surprised to see the Owls finish with more than a few scores.

Pick: Jacksonville State -9.5

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