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FCS Game of the Week Preview: No. 4 Eastern Washington at No. 17 Jacksonville State

The Eagles are out to secure a big non-conference win

NCAA Football: Eastern Washington at Washington Jennifer Buchanan-USA TODAY Sports

Game Time: Saturday, September 14, 2019, 4 p.m. ET

Location: Burgess-Snow Field, Jacksonville, Alabama

How To Watch: ESPN Plus

Betting Odds: Eastern Washington -14, O/U 73.5


Both Eastern Washington and Jacksonville State are 1-1 coming into this game, but not all 1-1 records are created equal. While the Eagles lost to a pretty good Washington team in Seattle, the Gamecocks couldn’t get out of their own way in a 35-14 loss to Southeastern Louisiana.

That stunning defeat sent Jacksonville State tumbling down the rankings, and that’s why the college football betting odds have Eastern Washington installed as a two-touchdown road favorite.

Reasons to Like Eastern Washington

Eric Barriere is one of the best quarterbacks in the country. Barriere took over for now-Washington State QB Gage Gubrud after Gubrud went down with an injury last year, and he led the Eagles to a berth in the FCS National Championship in his first season as a starter.

He has continued his strong play this season, completing 53 of 81 passes for 733 yards with six touchdowns and no interceptions on the year. Barriere is also able to pick up yardage with his legs when nothing is open, making him incredibly dangerous.

Dre Dorton is one of the top receivers in the FCS, and he has benefited tremendously from Eastern Washington’s offense. Dorton has 16 catches for 295 yards, and he is currently fifth in the FCS in receiving.

Reasons Not to Like Eastern Washington

Eastern Washington’s ground game is unproven through two games. The school is averaging less than four yards per carry on the year, and that has led to them being one-dimensional like we saw in years past.

The Eagles looked like they had finally fixed their defensive problems for good last year, but the returns on this side of the ball through two games aren’t good. Receivers were running open in the secondary throughout the game when Eastern Washington faced Washington in Week 1, but the play in Week 2 was more alarming. The defense allowed 31 points to NAIA Lindenwood, giving up four touchdowns through the air.

Reasons to Like Jacksonville State

The Gamecocks have always been one of the best FCS programs when it comes to landing talented players dropping down from FBS, and the Clemson to Jacksonville State pipeline keeps paying off in particular. Former Clemson quarterback Zerrick Cooper has put up big numbers this year, leading to JSU head coach John Grass eschewing his run-first philosophy. Cooper has already thrown for 758 yards this season, and he is averaging 9.7 yards per attempt.

JSU has looked strong on the ground too. The Gamecocks have two runners that are averaging over six yards per carry in Austin Kinsey and Michael Matthews, and they might try to establish the run more against Eastern Washington to avoid getting into a shootout.

Reasons Not to Like Jacksonville State

Cooper must be more careful with the ball. He has thrown three interceptions and fumbled once in two games this season, and that’s a little concerning considering some of those miscues cost Jacksonville State in their opener with Southeastern Louisiana.

The bigger issues are on defense though. The Gamecocks have had one of the top defenses in the FCS this entire decade, and they have sent multiple players to the NFL. However, this year’s unit has left a lot to be desired. Jacksonville State has allowed 5.3 yards per carry against two offenses that aren’t that good, and those performances have set off alarm bells throughout the Ohio Valley Conference.

Prediction

This is going to be a shootout. Jacksonville State has won 29 straight regular season home games coming into Saturday’s clash, but the Gamecocks’ defensive woes have that streak in serious jeopardy. While I believe Jacksonville State is better than the oddsmakers think, I don’t see the Gamecocks getting the victory. They’ll keep it within the number in a very entertaining game but fall short of an upset bid.

Final Score: Eastern Washington 38, Jacksonville State 34