You are the owner of this article.
You have permission to edit this article.

JSU football: Grass, Cooper talk 'great night,' FSU's mistake, and Jada Grass' brownies

John Grass, Damond Philyaw-Johnson

JSU coach John Grass gives a big hug to Damond Philyaw-Johnson after the win at Florida State.

Can college football games compare to bass fishing? They can if you're Jacksonville State's John Grass.

Grass' team is coming off a 20-17 win at Florida State with a touchdown pass on the last play. It's not the first time JSU has challenged a team from a Power Five conference — even beaten them.

JSU won at Ole Miss in 2010, and the Gamecocks fell in overtime at Auburn in 2015. Last year, they led Florida State in the third quarter before losing.

"Lot of times you get in those games, like Florida State last year, and you play well enough but you let them get away," Grass said during his regular game-week news conference Tuesday. "I go back to the 2015 team that took Auburn to overtime. We missed two field goals in the first half of that game. Should've won in regulation.

"It's like bass fishing: you've got a 12-pounder on the line and you don't net the thing and it gets off before you get it in the boat. This one, we got this one in the boat. No one can ever take it away from us."

Grass, quarterback Zerrick Cooper and linebacker Stevonte Tullis met with reporters by video conference Tuesday, apparently to talk about Saturday's game against North Alabama. The conference lasted more than 30 minutes, and about 90 percent of the time was spent going back over the thrilling win over Florida State, which has brought the football team and the school plenty of national attention.

"Great night for the Gamecocks," Grass said. "The win did a lot for our university as a whole, the publicity that comes off it.

"You get a lot of recognition for the way we won the game, I think, but I go back to just being proud of these guys. You get 200-plus texts after that game, but the way I responded to everyone of them was how proud I was of the players."

Here are six highlights from the news conference:

1. Norvell's mistake

Florida State coach Mike Norvell said Saturday after the game and Monday during a game-week news conference that the Seminoles chose not to play prevent defense on the last play because JSU had a timeout remaining and could've gotten close enough to try to tie it with a field goal.

It was a miscalculation, as Grass said that with only six seconds remaining when the last play began, JSU wasn't thinking at all about a field goal.

"Definitely going for the win," Grass said. "We had talked about field goal earlier in that drive, but once it got down to the below-16-second mark, we were trying for the win."

Cooper said JSU also had run the winning play on the previous snap. On that play, Cooper threw incomplete while aiming for P.J. Wells. Before the game-winner, he said quarterbacks coach Tyler Allen drew a "Z" to let him know to throw to the "Z" receiver, which was Damond Philyaw-Johnson.

"I said, 'OK, I know what they're trying to do now,'" Cooper said.

Cooper was surprised Florida State didn't go to a prevent defense.

"We were lucky enough to get the same coverage, which is Cover 3, which is not smart at all," he said. "Why not go prevent? And, the rest is history."

2. The penalties

Jacksonville State committed 13 penalties against Florida State for 111 yards, which followed a 31-0 loss to UAB in which the Gamecocks were flagged nine times for 60 yards.

JSU ranks No. 108 out of 114 teams in the FCS in penalty yards a game. Keep in mind that a Conference USA crew did the UAB game, and an Atlantic Coast Conference crew did the Florida State game.

Grass said the penalties are something they work on.

"Our brand of football, we're going to have some penalties," he said. "I'm never going to take our aggressiveness away from how we play the game. You get different crews. The Conference USA officials let us play more than we're used to playing with our past OVC officials. Every crew you get is a little different.

"We concentrate mainly on pre- and post-snap penalties. We're going to have our share of hold calls, offensively and defensively, because we're going to be aggressive. If it's a late-hit deal, we're going to have some of those because we play through the whistle."

Grass pointed out that against Florida State, "when you've got a sophomore tight end blocking an All-American at the Power-Five level, he may have to hold him a little bit. That was a disappointing hold, but we're going to have some of those."

Since 2013, JSU typically has ranked in the bottom one-third of the penalty-yardage rankings. The best was in 2017 when JSU was 75th out of 123 teams, while the worst was the 2013 team (Bill Clark's one year as head coach) when JSU was 101st out of 122 teams.

"Anybody who's played the game and lined up against someone who's trying to whip your rear end on the other side and it's a war understands the penalty part of the game," Grass said. "It's one of those things, pre- and post-snap, we're going to clean those things up, and we're going to work very, very hard in a game."

Grass said he was surprised JSU didn't have more false-start penalties, considering the Gamecocks used a silent count to combat the noise at Doak Campbell Stadium. JSU typically doesn't need to use the silent count.

From 2006-2012 when Jack Crowe was head coach, JSU always ranked from 52nd nationally to 67th.

3. Bouncing back

Grass emphasized that he was "very proud" of how JSU rebounded from its 31-0 loss to UAB 10 days earlier in the season-opener.

He figured his team would play better after seeing the players during practice.

"We knew we didn't play our best," Grass said. "We played hard (against Florida State). We had great effort. I saw this bunch come in dedicated to getting better.

"Once we got back on the practice field, we just got better every day. I knew we were going to see that in the Florida State game. To put ourselves in position to win the game, a lot of work went into that."

He added, "The touchdown play will be remembered. That play and that game will go down in history. Nobody can take that away from us, but the work that went into that …"

4. The injuries

With safety Jeremiah Harris out for the season because of an elbow injury against UAB in the season opener, Yessman Green got the start against Florida State.

He suffered an ankle injury against the Seminoles, and Grass said "we don't know yet" if Green will return Saturday against North Alabama.

Grass called the game against Florida State "physical," with both sides taking and giving plenty of hits.

"We're beat up," Grass said. "Yessman isn't the only one. We've got some ankles and some shoulders. We've got some things we've got to deal with this week to get people back on the field. We're having to take it slowly with some of our guys to get most of them back.

"The good thing this week is there's no season-ending stuff. When you lose a player like Jeremiah Harris like we did last week, that's devastating to your football team. You don't replace guys like Jeremiah with just one guy. It's six or seven or eight guys because he started on every special team. That's what kills your season — when you lose them for a season."

5. Emotional photo, brownies

After Saturday's win, Jacksonville State University photographer Matt Reynolds took a touching image of Grass hugging his wife, Jada, and their two oldest children, Jules and Jud. Jules even picked it up and pushed it out on social media.

Jada, Jules and Jud appeared as emotional as John Grass did in the picture.

"My family is as invested in it as much as anybody is," Grass said. "They were excited for these players, excited for our program. It was definitely emotional, and the Grass family loves the Gamecocks and they love football. They know how important it is to our family. They invest a lot in these guys."

Grass said his wife makes brownies for the players for road trips.

"The guys kind of look forward to that," Grass said. "She goes out of her way. She's a great coach's wife, and our kids, she's been that role model for them, so our kids are kind of bought into the deal, too."

Cooper and Stevonte Tullis said they look forward to the brownies on every away game.

"Those are something I might have to steal me a few to take to the hotel," Tullis said, "so I can have them later on."

Grass joked that the offensive and defensive linemen will take the whole container and "hide it under their seats" if nobody stops them.

6. Dinner on Cooper

During the win, Cooper passed former JSU great Eli Jenkins on the career passing list Saturday, and his teammates will benefit.

Jenkins threw for 7,652 yards during 2013-16, and Cooper now has 7,819 for the most in JSU history.

"Without my offensive line, my receivers, my running backs, my coaches, none of that would happen," Cooper said. "I credit all those guys. So, for me breaking the record, I always look after my offensive linemen, so I'm treating them to a nice meal. I'm looking at that record, and it's good to have, but it's for them, too."

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