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Five Fast Facts: What to know about the Gamecocks as the season opener draws near

JSU Mercer action

Jacksonville State's Uriah West stiff arms Mercer's Zach Hopkins during the Mercer vs JSU NCAA football game. Photo by Stephen Gross / The Anniston Star

It's the week of Jacksonville's opening game … again.

After a false start last week, the Gamecocks solemnly swear they'll play Sunday. They're set to host Tennessee Tech at 3 p.m. at JSU Stadium. Last week, they were to open at Tennessee State, but winter weather forced a postponement.

Meanwhile, Tennessee Tech survived a 27-21 win over Austin Peay.

On Tuesday morning, head coach John Grass spoke with reporters by video teleconference. Here are five things to know about what Grass discussed:

1. Scouting

Jacksonville State has a bit of an edge because it got to watch Tennessee Tech play this past weekend, while Tech has no recent game tape of the Gamecocks.

JSU did play four games in the fall, and Tech can view those tapes, but the Gamecocks have the advantage of having something more recent.

Still, Grass would've rather played.

"They played a full four-quarter game," Grass said. "It came down the last snap of the game really so their guys got a game on us, and we hadn't played," Grass said. "You know that's never a positive, but I do think positive is we got to see who their team was and in a person, who they are."

Is that recent game tape an advantage for JSU?

"I would say helpful," Grass said.

2. Punting

Preston Knight, who punted for JSU in the four fall games, is no longer with the team. JSU has two punters, and both could see action Sunday: freshman Jack Dawson is from Australia and transferred from Troy, and freshman Cole Porch of Sylacauga.

"It's a mix of two guys," Grass said. "We might flip a coin to see which one goes out first you know."

Grass said Porch kicks left-footed, while Dawson is right-footed.

"Those two guys have really stepped up," Grass said. "Porch has really improved a lot since the fall. Just a true freshman, but he's come along and he has gotten more consistent."

Neither has game experience.

"So we'll see what we get Sunday," Grass said. "Hopefully, those two will play well. They've been doing really well in practice for sure."

3. P.J. Mixon is out

On the offensive line, JSU is missing starting tackle P.J. Mixon, who has had shoulder surgery.

On the depth chart that JSU has released, JSU has junior Zack Cangelosi at center, juniors Josh Wegener and Cam Hill at guard, and junior Michael Shaddix and sophomore Tylan Grable at tackle.

"He's very questionable for the spring," Grass said. "If he will play, it will be later on at the end of the season. … This is one of the things about the spring — anybody who had surgery coming out of the fall, to get them back on the field in the spring will be difficult."

In addition, Grass is concerned that if anyone gets hurt seriously this spring, they might not have enough time to be ready for the fall.

"That is one of the negatives of playing in the spring," he said.

In addition, Grass said safety Darius Joiner, who had 28 tackles in four fall games, is injured and is limited because of some "soft tissue stuff," but he'll be able to play Sunday.

4. Go West

Uriah West, a junior, is listed as the No. 1 running back.

He had 198 rushing yards in the four fall games, including 116 on 24 carries against Florida International. He struggled with a broken foot in 2019, rushing only 19 times for 137 yards. His highlight was a 58-yard rush against Tennessee Tech.

"He was healthy this fall, and you see what he can be," Grass said. "So he's continuing to progress."

5. Fall schedule

On Tuesday morning, the ASUN Conference announced a one-year alliance with the Western Athletic Conference. They're calling it the AQ7, because there's seven teams and they'll play for an Automatic Qualifier into the FCS playoffs.

The Gamecocks' AQ7 schedule will include home games against Stephen F. Austin, Central Arkansas and Abilene Christian and road games at Sam Houston, Lamar and Eastern Kentucky.

JSU also has non-conference games set for 2021 against North Alabama, UAB and Florida State. Athletics director Greg Seitz said the Gamecocks are searching for two more games to complete the schedule.

Grass said he isn't lobbying Seitz to find two weak teams to fill out the slate.

"We never shied away from playing good competition," he said. "Mentally, the better people you play, it makes you better."

He added, "I'm not saying let's go out and pick up Alabama and Auburn, but I don't really want to play a Division II team or somebody else like that. I'd rather play a quality FCS team."

Senior Editor Mark Edwards: 256-235-3570. On Twitter: @MarkSportsStar.

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