TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Jacksonville State felt that old familiar feeling Saturday, living the upset-alert life.
The Gamecocks stunned Ole Miss in 2010 and took Auburn to overtime in 2015. The 2009 version came seconds away from shocking Florida State.
On a much dryer Saturday 11 years later in Doak Campbell Stadium, JSU had previously winless Florida State reeling. The Gamecocks led 14-0, then 21-7, then 21-14 at halftime, then 24-21 in the third quarter.
The Seminoles tried a new quarterback, and JSU made them try yet another one.
So why did seventh-year JSU head coach’s smile look so much like a scowl after a 41-24 loss?
“I’m proud of the effort, but there’s no moral victories in this game,” he said. “I don’t buy the, ‘We played well,’ and all of that stuff. We had chances to win this game.”
Grass’ frown clearly wasn’t upside down, but JSU might’ve turned frowns upside down back home. It’s all in the context.
JSU is coming off a 6-6 season, it’s worst since 2012 and worst in the years since Bill Clark became head coach in 2013 then turned it over to Grass, his offensive coordinator, a year later.
No playoffs. So many streaks that defined an era gone. No reason to think JSU could go on the road and put a fright into even a struggling Florida State team.
Yet, that’s exactly what JSU did.
The Gamecocks emerged from their pandemic hibernation and, in their first game of 2020, made an adventure of Florida State’s third.
Say what one will about moral victories, but Florida State 41, JSU 24 feels a whole lot different than Southeastern Louisiana 35, JSU 14 just more than 13 months ago.
“I think this team came out with a different mindset than last year,” said Zerrick Cooper, JSU’s third-year starting quarterback, who completed 22 of 30 passes for 232 yards Saturday.
Cooper should know better than any one in red and white. He spent a lot of time on his back at USL last year, more time running for his life.
The feeling coming out of Hammond, La., could best be described as, ruh-roh. Might want to rethink JSU’s preseason hype.
That’s how the season turned out, too, but JSU comes home from Tallahassee with a different feeling. The Gamecocks will play three more non-conference games this fall then their conference slate in spring, a split forced by COVID-19. They might not have Cooper in the spring, if all goes well in his abbreviated fall campaign to impress NFL scouts.
But JSU left “The Doak” with every reason to have an okie-doke feeling about how it will fare against competition its own size.
Maybe Grass best communicated that feeling through his scowl.
“I think our guys expected to win this game,” Grass said. “I think we played like that.”