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Protecting Adams lines up as EWU’s top job

How Jacksonville State handles the athleticism of EWU QB Vernon Adams should be today’s main key. (Tyler Tjomsland)
How Jacksonville State handles the athleticism of EWU QB Vernon Adams should be today’s main key. (Tyler Tjomsland)

Vernon Adams is making history this season, but so is Jacksonville (Ala.) State.

They’ll be on a collision course today in an FCS quarterfinal game at Roos Field, as the Eastern Washington quarterback tries to break some more records while the Gamecocks try to break him in two.

“I can’t let that happen,” Adams said after being reminded again of the hurt JSU put on McNeese State quarterback Cody Stroud, who was sacked 11 times last week as the unranked Gamecocks (11-3) won only their second FCS playoff game in history, 31-10.

Adams’ ability to stand, scramble and deliver is just one of many keys to today’s game, which will send the winner to a semifinal game next weekend against Towson, a matchup EWU would host if it beats Jacksonville State.

The other keys?

• Adams and the offense producing touchdowns – not field goals – against a JSU defense that’s among the best in the nation at making opponents settle for three.

• The Eagles’ defense winning more short-yardage battles than it loses against powerful JSU running back DaMarcus James, who sometimes takes a direct snap in the wildcat formation.

• Eastern’s containment of Eli Jenkins, an athletic freshman quarterback who’s scored more touchdowns running (eight) than throwing (two).

There are more keys, involving JSU’s penchant for jumping out to big halftime leads, and third-ranked Eastern’s recent dominance in the third quarter, but today’s game should be defined by the athleticism of Adams.

The redshirt sophomore from Pasadena, Calif., owns a pass-efficiency rating of 187.1 that ranks fourth in FCS history, and his 51 touchdown passes this season are third all time nationally. Throw in his rushing total of 491 yards and Adams ranks fifth in FCS history with 4,794 all-purpose yards this season.

Adams is also one of three finalists for the Walter Payton Award, along with Eastern Illinois quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo and Towson running back Terrance West.

“He is a great passer and great runner,” said first-year JSU coach Bill Clark, whose team was shredded 52-14 by EIU on Nov. 16. “I didn’t think I would see anyone that is comparable to Jimmy Garoppolo … but this guy does. 

“He runs like a tailback and they have receivers all over the place that catch the ball.”

That includes redshirt freshman Cooper Kupp of Yakima, who has 81 receptions for 1,468 yards, 20 touchdowns and a strong chance to be named the FCS Freshman of the Year on Monday.

Adams also has a running game, which blossomed last week in a 41-17 playoff win over South Dakota State. Running back Quincy Forte rushed for 202 yards and the Eagles had 287 yards on the ground.

On the other side of the ball, the JSU zone-read presents a unique challenge. James and Jenkins offer a hint of what Sam Houston State did to the Eagles in a 49-34 loss back in September, but operate a zone-read instead of the option.


Because the Eastern women are hosting Idaho tonight, Reese Court will not be available as a halftime warming shelter this week, athletic director Bill Chaves said. … Defensive back Miles Weatheroy will sit out the first half of today’s game after being ejected for a personal foul against South Dakota State.