After a prolific offensive campaign that ended just one win shy of a National Title, the Gamecocks enter 2016 looking once again to do some serious damage in the FCS. Some familiar SEC names include former LSU receiver Kevin Spears and former Auburn tailback Roc Thomas. While the JSU roster has some former SEC talent, success for the Gamecock offense will likely come down to, as is often the case, quarterback play.
Quarterback Eli Jenkins
The Gamecocks’ senior passer is one of the best players in the FCS and was a consensus All-American favorite entering the season. Perhaps the most viewed example of his excellence came last year against Auburn where he accounted for 300 yards, a touchdown and came within a potentially game icing 4th down conversion of securing the upset. The Gamecocks offense is a balanced attack, ranking third last season in rush yards per game and fifth in pass yards per game. Jenkins embodies this balance, throwing for 2,788 yards, 21 scores and nine picks in 2015. He also ran for 1,161 yards, 18th in the FCS, and 15 rushing touchdowns.
What could cause problems
As a seasoned veteran he sees the field well and makes good decisions for the most part. JSU employs its share of shotgun, RPO type plays and Jenkins operates those plays at an optimal level. He does a nice job reading through his progressions and shows general comfort in running the offense.
His experience also shows up in other facets of his game. He trusts his receivers and will allow his weapons to go up and make a play on the ball. Jenkins is pretty savvy when it comes to knowing when to take off versus when to stick with the pass play. You can see below that even though the play doesn’t develop as anticipated, he still has the awareness to stay with it. Jenkins is usually a pretty accurate passer and isn’t reckless in his ball placement. He can get some zip on his short and intermediate passes with his quick release.
As a runner, Jenkins moves like a running back, stringing together cuts and moves to elude defenders, preferring to dodge rather than running them over. His balance appears to be pretty good and can escape weak tackle attempts.
What can be exploited and how
The potential key to stopping Jenkins is keeping him in long passing situations. Although Jenkins generally has faith in his receiver to make a play and certainly will give his receiver a shot in one-on-one coverage, he will occasionally be a little reckless on his deeper passes, sometimes disregarding unfavorable coverages in favor of the big play. This snap below was an interception that was eventually overturned due to a penalty, but considering where the defenders conversed, it probably wasn’t the safest throw to begin with. He also doesn’t have the strongest arm on deeper passes, and is more likely to put some air under his passes expecting the receiver to come down with the pass.
With the secondary being a theoretical strength of the Tiger defense, there should be some opportunities to capitalize on any ill advised passes Jenkins may attempt. Additionally, keeping Jenkins in longer passing situations likely removes the threat of a quarterback scramble.
In down and regular or down and short situations, LSU must be disciplined in dealing with the JSU option plays and, even in non-option situations, should keep a spy on Jenkins to prevent the unscripted run.
Last weekend, LSU played, in part, like it was looking past what was billed as an inferior Wisconsin. Once again the Tigers face an opponent they should beat, but also an opponent with the potential ability to spoil a season. Coming away with a victory means LSU must, at minimum, respect Jenkins and the rest of the Gamecocks.