Three things: Despite loss, SFA national title hopes still in sight

Photo by Dave Campbell's Texas Football

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Gridiron domination was displayed at the Cramton Bowl in the FCS Kickoff Classic in Montgomery, Ala. The home team, Jacksonville State, asserted itself late in the second quarter and dominated the second half in a 42-17 win over No. 10 Stephen F. Austin.

It’s not THAT the Lumberjacks lost that is most surprising. It’s HOW they lost. The preseason Cinderella was dominated in the two phases of the game that mattered most today, offense and defense. JSU rolled to 484 total yards of offense.

It’s not like the special teams unit wasn’t without issues either, with a fumbled snap on a punt that the Gamecocks recovered in the end zone. Mother Nature added insult to injury when the game was not resumed following a lengthy weather delay with 13 minutes left in the contest.

Here are three other observations from the contest, with headlines inspired by the legendary country music artist Alabama.

1. “When It All Goes South”

Sure, this is an “uncountable” game and will have no determination in the ‘Jacks earning the automatic bid in the WAC-ASUN alliance or winning the WAC title. But conference titles were not what many pundits, including myself, expected from SFA this year.

With Sam Houston not eligible for the FCS playoffs this year due to transitioning to FBS next year, SFA began the season as the team with the best chance for the state of Texas to have a team in the FCS national title game in Frisco.

However, you don’t get to Frisco easily, especially with teams like North Dakota State and South Dakota State lurking in the playoffs. The ‘Jacks need a high seed with as many home games as possible for a national run.

Outside of possible seeding, this game could prove pivotal to the ‘Jacks if they need an at-large berth. With such a light slate of games in Week 0, this result on national television could become part of the committee’s decision in November.

2. “All-American”

SFA’s Xavier Gipson was the best receiver in the FCS last year and a top-five receiver in all of Division I, according to Pro Football Focus (PFF) ratings. SFA offensive coordinator Matt Storm used his All-American at several positions early in the game, from his normal slot receiver position to running back in a goalline package.

Facing a fourth down from the JSU four-yard line, Gipson began at wide receiver before QB Trae Self sent his favorite target in motion. The motion pulled the defense's attention toward the middle of the field, allowing Self to find Darryl Simmons open in the back corner of the end zone for the ‘Jacks first touchdown.

Following a JSU touchdown on its next possession, Gipson took advantage of man coverage with a move towards a slant route before cutting up the field and racing past the defense for a 50-yard touchdown reception, making Gipson the program leader in career receiving yards.

Gipson had five receptions on seven targets for 70 yards and a touchdown after giving SFA a 14-7 lead. Following the long touchdown pass, Gipson had one reception for minus-two yards on three targets for the final 43:47 of the game.

3. “Give Me One More Shot”

Ok, enough of the gloom and doom. Yes, the loss stinks for SFA, but the national championship is not determined in August. The ‘Jacks have plenty more opportunities to earn positive headlines with a road game against FBS Louisiana Tech in Week 3 and the Battle of the Piney Woods against Sam Houston in Week 6.

Winning both games against “uncountable” competition is ideal for the ‘Jacks playoff hopes. Moreover, winning one of those games feels like a necessity for SFA to have any hopes of a spot in the FCS playoffs, considering the ‘Jacks have three FBS foes and an NAIA team on its schedule.

Can SFA still get in the FCS playoffs and win the national title? Yes. Will they? Well, that remains to be seen, but one thing I’ve learned is to doubt Colby Carthel at your peril.

Game Ball: DL Edward Bobino

The sophomore from Huntsville terrorized JSU in the first half. Bobino recovered a fumble in the first quarter before recording a sack and breaking through the line to block a field goal attempt in the second quarter.

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