JACKSONVILLE — Disappointment abounds after Jacksonville State’s first regular-season loss to an FCS opponent in four years, but three positives emerge for a team that fielded 13 new starters.
The greatest improvement comes from the first game to the second.
Most of what ailed sixth-ranked JSU in a 20-17 loss to No. 14 North Carolina A&T is fixable.
The Gamecocks have a bye week to fix stuff.
Two practices into life moving on, count first-year starting quarterback Zerrick Cooper among those who say things are not as bad as they feel.
“There was plenty good, not somewhat of a bad,” he said.
The good started with Cooper’s performance, minus two crucial turnovers. He completed 24 of 38 passes for 320 yards, two touchdowns and one interception … good quarterbacking numbers, by any measure.
In a season-opener against a good defense determined to defend JSU’s history as a running game, Cooper hit two accurate deep-ball touchdown passes.
“It’s good to show that we can stretch the field vertically,” JSU coach John Grass said. “It’s something we’ve had trouble with the past couple of years, but we’ve always been able to do that.
“It opens up your offense. We’ll be able to throw the ball a lot better, and that’s going to help us down the road.”
Cooper’s two turnovers drew mixed reviews. His fumble on JSU’s would be tying or go-ahead drive late was a matter of waiting too late to throw, which allowed him to be sacked.
Film confirmed a missed opportunity.
“I saw touchdown,” Cooper said. “I talked to my left tackle and said I could’ve done a better job of passing. I had two receivers, Jamari Hester and Daniel Byrd.”
Grass said Cooper’s interception came on a good throw and a “great” play by A&T defensive back Antoine Wilder.
As for JSU’s struggles in the running game, injuries played a role. Starting running back Tramel Terry (calf), guard Darius Anderson (concussion) and utility back up lineman Nate Archie (ACL) did not play.
Grass said Anderson should be back to play in JSU’s next game, Sept. 8 against Mississippi Valley State. Terry is questionable but should be ready by JSU’s Ohio Valley Conference opener, Sept. 22 against Tennessee Tech. Archie is out of the season.
Still, Grass credited A&T’s scheme for holding JSU to 80 net rushing yards.
“At the end of the day, they won the line of scrimmage,” he said.
That reality played a role in JSU going 1-for-11 on third-down conversions.
“You have 400 yards of offense and feel pretty bad about it,” he said. “We left a lot laying out there on the field, and that’s disappointing, but you’ve got to sustain drives.”
Meanwhile, JSU works to fix another major problem in the A&T game … penalties. The Gamecocks had 14 for 149 yards, one yard more than A&T gained.
A targeting call on a late hit out of bounds will cost backup safety Charles Crawford the first half of the MVSU game. Grass was most disappointed in false-start penalties, including one that robbed JSU of a chance to go for fourth-and-one on A&T territory.
The Gamecocks wound up settling for a 51-yard field goal attempt, which Cade Stinnett missed.
Grass saw “weird” calls, including an interference penalty on JSU’s onsides kick. Overall, he said most of JSU’s penalties were “very correctable.”
“The hold penalties, you’re going to have some of,” he said. “You want to limit them. They’re drive killers, but they you call back a touchdown on one of them.
“Denzil (Ware), the late hit on the quarterback, wasn’t late-late. It was late. It was a good call, but then it was hard to pull up in that situation. It’s one of those bang-bang plays. That was an effort, but we can live with that, but he’ll learn from it.”