Timothy Cash, Sports Editor
If Jacksonville State’s football team had to choose what they liked best about their No. 3 seed in the playoff, most of the guys would say it is the respect they got from the Championship Committee. Then, they would probably say the bye week. After having two early bye weeks at the beginning of the season, the Gamecocks had to tackle then No. 16 Liberty and their OVC schedule without a break.
“It is good to be going in to the playoffs and it was great having the bye week,” head coach John Grass said at Monday’s press conference. “We were mentally and physically tired after nine-straight games, so it was good to get that time off and keep our game speed.”
With the Gamecocks’ last regular season game, a 36-6 win over Tennessee State, on a Thursday, Jacksonville State actually got almost a week and a half to rest up for their second-round matchup against Kennesaw State.
Kennesaw State (11-1) is making their first appearance to the playoffs in only their third year fielding a football team.
“They are probably the hottest team in the country with 11-straight wins, which is really impressive,” Senior linebacker Jonathan Hagler said. “They have one of the top rushing offenses in the country, so we look forward to the challenge. They are a really good team.”
The Owls suffered a close 28-23 loss to Samford to begin the season, but avenged that loss by eliminating the Bulldogs 28-17 in the first round of the playoffs.
Kennesaw State runs the triple option, which the Gamecocks faced earlier this season when they traveled to Atlanta to face Georgia Tech.
“They are a little bit more multiple than Georgia Tech was,” Grass said. “Coach (Brian) Bohannon came from there, so they do a lot of what Georgia Tech does and they are very similar.”
Running back Jake McKenzie gets much of the work load for Kennesaw State with 660 yards on 136 touches, but Shaquil Terry and Darnell Holland are on his heals with 634 yards and 622 yards, respectively.
Quarterback Chandler Burks has passed for 1061 yards on 61 completions, including eight touchdowns, but if he doesn’t see want he likes, he is not afraid to get out of the pocket. Burks leads the team with 1061 rushing yards through the 12 games played this season, and has found his way into the end zone 16 times when scrambling.
“They really run to the ball and they have really good players,” redshirt-junior running back Tramel Terry said. “They have a chip on their shoulder since they have only had a team for three years. They are playing for something.”
However, the Gamecocks are playing for something too.
“I have been here all four years and two times we have failed (in this round),” senior defensive back Siran Neal said. “With this being my last year, I don’t want to fall short this year. This spot really means something because last year we fell short in preparing and this year we don’t want to have that experience again.”
Jacksonville State and Kennesaw State will square off at 1 p.m. on Saturday, Dec. 2, at Burgess-Snow Field.