JACKSONVILLE — Zerrick Cooper rolled left, looked down field and launched a 75-yard touchdown pass that covered 60 yards in the air Saturday night.
The pass crossed from one set of numbers to the other on the field and led Josh Pearson perfectly.
Yes, Jacksonville State has a quarterback who can do that, and he once again showed himself to be the dominant influence in the Gamecocks’ offense in a 71-0 rout of Mississippi Valley State on Saturday in JSU Stadium.
Two weeks after throwing for 320 yards in JSU’s season-opener, Cooper threw for 188 of his 211 yards in the first half against Mississippi Valley State. The Clemson transfer threw touchdown passes of 38 and 75 yards to his apparent favorite target, Pearson, who had 147 receiving yards in the opener against North Carolina A&T.
Cooper said he had a feeling before the bomb to Pearson.
“I told myself, like, the beginning of the play, ‘I feel like I’m going to roll out. I’m going to throw it to Josh,’” Cooper said. “I just rolled out and saw Josh wide open and just gave him a great ball.”
Pearson said JSU’s receiving corps has learned to trust Cooper’s arm when he scrambles.
“Coach always tells us to keep running, keep playing to the whistle,” Pearson said. “I just stayed on my route, and he seen me. I’m glad he seen it.”
Though he rarely runs, Cooper made big plays with his feet Saturday. His scramble on third down and 10 turned an apparent three-and-out into an 86-yard scoring drive in the first quarter, leading to his first touchdown pass to Pearson.
Cooper’s 7-yard scramble on fourth and five kept JSU going on a second-quarter drive that ended with his 1-yard sneak for a touchdown.
“Any quarterback should be aware of situations,” he said. “Me personally, I don’t like to run a lot, but, if I have to, I will. I’ll take what the defense gives me.”
But Cooper has flashed the most arm talent and arm-centric game of any JSU quarterback in recent memory, at least as far back as Ryan Perrilloux. In three halves of football this season, Cooper has completed nine passes of 20 yards or more.
It shows why Cooper was a four-star prospect who signed with Clemson out of high school and why Clemson coach Dabo Swinney told JSU coach John Grass to expect an “NFL arm” when Cooper transferred.
“It stretches the field,” Grass said. “I think we’ve got some receivers that stretch the field vertically, and, with somebody that can throw it that far, it definitely helps you stretch the field vertically. We’re able to attack the whole field.”
Cooper had plenty of help in the running game, as JSU tied a 17-year-old school record with eight rushing touchdowns. The Gamecocks last did it against Cumberland University in 2001.
On top of Cooper’s touchdown sneak, Jaelen Greene had a 10-yard touchdown run. Michael Matthews added scoring runs of 3 and 5 yards. Uriah West added touchdown runs of 12, nine and 11 yards, and Austin Kinsey scored from 5 yards.
JSU gained 366 rushing yards and 654 total, coming one yard short of a school mark set against Austin Peay in 2014.
Meanwhile, Mississippi Valley State’s minus-8 yards rushing marked the fewest allowed by JSU in school history, breaking the mark of minus-3 by Murray State in 2017.
This just two weeks after JSU gave up just 148 total yards in the loss to A&T.
“Once we come in, we’re locking them gates in,” defensive tackle Connor Christian said. “It’s balls to the wall. We don’t take it easy on nobody.”