South Carolina Football: How to watch, storylines, injuries, expert picks, and predictions vs. Jacksonville State

South Carolina football mascot Cocky. Mandatory Credit: Joshua S. Kelly-USA TODAY Sports
South Carolina football mascot Cocky. Mandatory Credit: Joshua S. Kelly-USA TODAY Sports /

South Carolina football coach Shane Beamer and his team are looking to go on a run to finish the year. A 4-0 November record would move the Gamecocks to a 6-6 mark and into traditional bowl eligibility.

While that sounds far-fetched for a team that is currently 2-6, a look at the schedule reveals that USC’s final four contests are some of the most winnable games within the country’s most difficult schedule. The Gamecocks are at home for all four games and will play against Jacksonville State, Vanderbilt, Kentucky, and Clemson.

This Saturday, the climb to bowl eligibility begins with college football’s first-ever game between two teams that share the Gamecock nickname as Jacksonville State and head coach Rich Rodriguez make the trip from Jacksonville, Alabama to Columbia, South Carolina.

South Carolina Football vs. Jacksonville State:
How to watch

There will be four mid-day SEC games, and the Gamecocks vs. Gamecocks will be the South Carolina Gamecocks’ second-straight noon game as the broadcast will begin at 12:00. The game will be shown on ESPNU and the ESPN app. Brian Custer, Rod Gilmore, and Lauren Sisler will be on the call.

South Carolina Football vs. Jacksonville State:
Storylines to watch

Aside from the numerous references to Saturday’s contest being the first-ever meeting between Gamecock teams (and uncountable “cock fight” allusions), there will be some major storylines to watch this weekend.

The South Carolina Gamecocks will be working toward bowl eligibility, while Jacksonville State is ineligible for postseason play as the program is in its second year of FBS competition (teams are not able to compete in bowl games, conference championships, or the College Football Playoff until the third season at the FBS level).

Rich Rodriguez is about as famous as any coach at the Group of 5 level. His experience coaching the West Virginia Mountaineers, Michigan Wolverines, and Arizona Wildcats has made him a big name all over the country. He also has familiarity with South Carolina football as he spent time as the offensive coordinator at Clemson.

Jacksonville State has one of the best rushing attacks in the country, and South Carolina is one of the worst 3rd-and-short and 4th-and-short teams in America. If Carolina struggles to slow down Malik Jackson and the ground game on early downs, the garnet and black defense could be in for a long night.

USC’s injury situation has been out of control this season, particularly on the offensive line and in the wide receiver room. Guard Trai Jones will be out this week, but Vershon Lee, Tree Babalade, Tro Baugh, Jakai Moore, and Cason Henry will all be available despite their recent injury struggles. Receivers Xavier Legette and Ahmarean Brown will also play; Juice Wells’ status is unknown. Tight end Trey Knox is questionable.

JSU has had to deal with some injuries of their own this season, but quarterback Zion Webb is back after a multi-game absence. Webb and Logan Smothers have been rotating recently when both players have been healthy.

Jacksonville State didn’t just “steal” the nickname Gamecocks, but they also ripped off South Carolina football’s mascot Cocky. The two fighting roosters do look a little different, but Carolina fans aren’t used to having two Cockys on the field other than on Parents Weekend when Cocky’s family comes to visit.

A false storyline could be circulated during the broadcast, as well. In 2016, right before Will Muschamp was hired by the South Carolina football program to be the next head coach in Columbia, Rich Rodriguez interviewed for the job. It didn’t work out. However, Rich Rod’s agent said that his client was offered the job and turned it down. That isn’t what happened, and Rodriguez eventually recanted the story.

South Carolina Football vs. Jacksonville State:
What experts are saying

The spread for South Carolina-Jacksonville State sits just above a two-touchdown margin. Most betting outlets have had the game between a 14-point and 17-point margin since the line opened. The Gamecocks have gone 4-0 against the spread in the Shane Beamer era against Group of 5 opponents.

ESPN’s Football Power Index gives Carolina an 80% chance to earn a victory in Williams-Brice Stadium on Saturday.

The college football team at FoxSports picked South Carolina to win the game and cover the spread.

The Greenville News’ Emily Adams picked South Carolina football to win but not to cover the spread.

South Carolina Football vs. Jacksonville State:
Official Garnet and Cocky prediction

Saturday’s game seems to have two realistic outcomes: either South Carolina football handles their business and wins comfortably, or Jacksonville State has enough success running the football to make this game a 4th quarter contest.

Malik Jackson is a talented player at running back, and his backups Anwar Lewis and Ron Wiggins are good ‘backs, as well. Both quarterbacks (Zion Webb and Logan Smothers) are solid running threats. J’Wan Evans is further down the backfield depth chart but has a nose for the end zone.

Rich Rod will put his team in a position to have success running the ball. The key to the game will be how well South Carolina can slow down that ground attack. The Gamecocks have struggled in short-yardage running situations but have done well on early downs. If Carolina can force JSU behind the sticks, keeping them off the scoreboard should be easy as neither Webb nor Smothers have had much success as passers this season.

There is a good chance that Gamecock defensive tackle TJ Sanders is the best player on the line of scrimmage when Jacksonville State has the ball on Saturday. If he and his fellow defensive linemen can get the job done against the run, Carolina will win this game handily. If they struggle (or if USC’s linebackers and safeties don’t run fit well), JSU will move the ball at will.

South Carolina’s offense should have plenty of chances to gain yards and score points against a Jacksonville State defense that has struggled at times this year. Spencer Rattler has been an excellent performer this season when his offensive line has given him time to operate, and with Nyck Harbor’s emergence and Xavier Legette and Ahmarean Brown supposedly being ready to go on Saturday, Carolina also will have the speed advantage on the outside.

The Alabama-based Gamecocks have been a little better against the run than against the pass, but Mario Anderson is a hard-nosed runner who should be difficult to tackle for a JSU linebacker corps that only has one player over 220 pounds.

South Carolina football has focused on stopping the run once this season (against Mississippi State), and they did a really good job of limiting Woody Marks to just 32 yards on 23 carries. Unfortunately, they gave up over 450 yards passing that game. However, that is not something that Jacksonville State is capable of doing.

Because of that, the most realistic outcome for Saturday’s Gamecock vs. Gamecock matchup is that South Carolina keys on the run, limiting Jacksonville State’s success. On the other side of the ball, the home Gamecocks will score in most of their opportunities. In a game that is probably a little more competitive than the score, USC will pull away.

850. Prediction. 17. 2510. 41

With how this season has gone, South Carolina football fans will be more than happy with covering the spread against a good Group of 5 opponent. Picking up a win keeps the bowl eligibility dream alive. Step two of four, the Vanderbilt Commodores, is next week.

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