The South Carolina football team (2-6, 1-5 SEC) is looking to get back in the win column against Jacksonville State (7-2, 5-1 Conference USA) when the two teams compete at noon this Saturday.
These two programs will be meeting for the first time ever, and the game is being tabbed “The Battle of the Gamecocks” since they share a mascot.
Eight other SEC programs have hosted Jacksonville State, with LSU being the last do to so in 2016, but South Carolina will be the program's first Power 5 opponent since it came up from the FCS to the FBS this offseason.
Last weekend, South Carolina went on the road to Texas A&M and lost its fourth straight game 30-17. The Gamecocks forced a three-and-out to start the game and jumped out to a 7-0 lead before the Aggies answered by scoring three unanswered touchdowns in the second quarter to enter halftime with a 21-7 lead and never look back.
Jacksonville State is coming off a dominant 41-16 win over conference opponent Florida International.
Head coach Shane Beamer said Tuesday that he's been impressed with JSU since the team's win over Florida State in 2021, and the current team works well in the run game with its two-quarterback system.
He said the team is the second fastest in the country tempo-wise, behind only Tennessee, andNo. 5 in explosive runs.
Redshirt senior quarterback Zion Webb is expected to take the bulk of the snaps for JSU. Webb has seven total touchdowns and three interceptions this season. Junior quarterback Logan Smothers will get the remaining snaps and has 11 total touchdowns with two interceptions this season.
Beamer said Jacksonville State has a “disruptive" defense and causes a lot of turnovers, meaning South Carolina must get creative in the red zone. JSU has forced 18 turnovers in nine games and boasts the No. 7 turnover margin in the country, ahead of playoff contenders No. 2 Michigan and No. 12 Notre Dame.
South Carolina needs to win all four of its last games to become bowl-eligible. These games — Jacksonville State, Vanderbilt, Kentucky and Clemson — will all be played in Columbia. Beamer said he has a "one game at a time" philosophy, meaning that he doesn't let his team start to focus on the end of the season before it's actually the end of the season.
“We understand what we have to do. We need to win four games to get bowl-eligible,” Beamer said. “You can’t get the fourth win in a row until you get one of them.”
Beamer said redshirt junior offensive lineman Trai Jones will be out on Saturday, but everyone else on the injured list is questionable to play, including senior receiver Antwane “Juice” Wells Jr.
Wells has not seen the field since the first quarter of South Carolina's week three game against the Georgia Bulldogs, but he's getting "closer and closer" to a return, Beamer said. Redshirt freshman offensive tackle Cason Henry, who has been out since the season-opener, and redshirt junior offensive lineman Vershon Lee, who has missed the last two games, both returned to practice Tuesday.
The injuries have led to more young Gamecocks getting involved in recent weeks, such as redshirt freshman linebacker Jaron Willis, who saw his first snaps of the season against Texas A&M. Redshirt junior linebacker Debo Williams said that having more linebackers in the rotation can only boost the defense.
"It’s definitely helpful for us to be full-speed anytime you come in, because you know you've got teams with running backs rotating three to four backs,” Williams said.
Sixth-year running back Dakereon Joyner said he plans to enjoy these last four games of his long South Carolina career with bowl eligibility on the line in every game.
“Despite our record, find some joy. ... We've got four games left together," Joyner said. "Enjoy being with each other.”
South Carolina opens as a 15.5-point favorite over Jacksonville State, according to DraftKings Sportsbook, with kickoff set for noon on Saturday. The game will be available on ESPNU.