The Jacksonville State Gamecocks have a chance to get back into contention for the Ohio Valley Conference title when they host league-leading Tennessee State at 11 a.m. Saturday, despite coming off their second league defeat.
The Gamecocks' 31-28 loss to Eastern Illinois dropped them into a tie with Murray State for fifth place in the OVC standings at 2-2 (3-3 overall). But JSU is only one game behind a trio of teams tied for second at 3-1 (Eastern Kentucky, Tennessee-Martin and Eastern Illinois) and 1½ games out of first. Tennessee State (7-0, 3-0) is 1 of 4 FCS teams still undefeated.
So a victory by the Gamecocks would put them in the middle of a tight race for the OVC crown that could involve as many as seven teams. A loss, however, would leave JSU all but eliminated from championship contention.
The Gamecocks hold a 6-1 lead in this series, but none of the Tennessee State teams they beat were 7-0 and ranked No. 17 in the nation. The Tigers have not been undefeated this late into the season since the 1999 team went 11-0.
"They have some of the best players I have ever seen," JSU coach Jack Crowe said. "They are big up front and they can run the ball. Defensively, they are in the top three in the league in almost every category. It will be a challenge for us."
In last week's 40-28 victory over Southeast Missouri, TSU junior running back Trabis Ward rushed for 267 yards and four touchdowns, three in the fourth quarter. Ward ranks sixth nationally in rushing at 129.7 yards per game, and second in scoring at 11.1 points per game.
Despite allowing their season-high in points, the Tigers still rank 13th nationally in scoring defense (16.4 points per game) and are the only OVC team in the top 50 nationally in total defense (48th, 350.1 yards per game).
As for the Gamecocks, their biggest issue this season has been turnovers. They committed 5 of them in the loss to Eastern Illinois, giving them nine in their two conference losses.
"Other than the turnovers, I think we have played pretty good this year," Crowe said. "We have to overcome that. I think we are a better football team than that. If we don't turn over the football, we will be in every game."
Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.