Postgame analysis of JSU's 28-20 win at Eastern Illinois:
THREE THINGS WORTH TALKING ABOUT
Strong right arm
Jacksonville State's Zerrick Cooper dominated again.
The quarterback with the NFL arm and his group of quality receivers gave Eastern Illinois fits Saturday — as they have most teams. Cooper threw three touchdown passes for the fifth straight game. That's a school record, by the way.
Josh Pearson caught a pair of touchdown passes, and Jamari Hester made nine catches for 99 yards.
The one drawback? Cooper had two interceptions, including one that gave Eastern Illinois one last chance to drive for a touchdown and potentially tie the game with a two-point conversion.
Cooper has 19 touchdown passes and nine interceptions. He's a brilliant quarterback and his leadership skills are growing. JSU is lucky to him. But, the interceptions have to come down.
Jacksonville State's run game produced its best day of the season Saturday, and that's not just because Eastern Illinois is a winless team. EIU entered the game ranked second in the Ohio Valley Conference in rushing defense, averaging 135.2 yards a game.
JSU rushed for a season-high 186 yards on 44 carries, which is a pedestrian average of 4.2 yards an attempt.
Michael Matthews picked up 92 yards on 15 rushes. The JSU offense will survive behind Cooper and the receivers, but with a good running game, the Gamecocks will be that much better.
JSU safety Traco Williams produced two big interceptions Saturday, which gives him three for the season.
He's been exceptionally good in the past two years at grabbing opposing passes. He had four last season, which tied for fifth in the OVC.
Entering Saturday's play, only one OVC player this season had more than two interceptions. Austin Peay's Kordell Jackson had four.
Rushing offense — A-: For JSU on the road, 186 rushing yards is awfully good. Matthews led the way, but Uriah West and Jaelen Greene made some nice runs. The one big drawback to the day: not getting a first-down on fourth-and-one at midfield.
Rushing defense — B: Jax State gave up 109 rushing yards, holding EIU to 6 yards on eight carries in the fourth quarter
Passing offense — B-: Zerrick Cooper had another big day, but those interceptions had the potential to hurt.
Passing defense — A: EIU's Harry Woodbery started quickly, helping the Cougars go up 7-0 early. (Maybe it's a requirement for JSU to fall behind early every game.) After that, he struggled to find much consistency. JSU picked him off three times, and those were critical.
Special teams — C: The punting was problematic, partially because of the infamous wind that makes life tough for kickers at EIU's open stadium. Even so, Jason Pierce boomed a 51-yarder to the EIU 10 late in the fourth quarter, which essentially sealed the win. Bryant Wallace missed a 40-yard field goal.
Coaching — B: John Grass says he probably shouldn't have gone for it on fourth down at midfield, because that put the defense in a hole and led to an EIU touchdown. He's right. Give him and his staff credit for turning around road fortunes.
Overall — B: It hardly was a perfect victory. While it's nice to win on the road in the OVC, it still came against a team that hasn't won all year. Still, the league is more balanced this year, so JSU should celebrate any road win, no matter how it comes.