JACKSONVILLE — Jacksonville State won its only home game of 2020 Saturday, beating Mercer 34-28 in a game marked by downpours and fumbles but lots of positives for the home team:
The biggest story here is what JSU got done in the running game. A team that’s become known for passing with Zerrick Cooper at quarterback, the Gamecocks rushed for 158 yards and passed for 139 on a day when the running game had to come through. JSU gained 201 yards rushing before losses factored in, and all three of JSU’s offensive touchdowns came on the ground.
Mercer’s offense had its best drives early and late. In between, the Gamecocks’ defense gave up one short-field touchdown, after a turnover. JSU’s defense also provided the decisive points on Nicario Harper’s 64-yard fumble return for a touchdown, JSU’s second defensive touchdown in as many games.
Special teams: B
JSU coach John Grass blamed himself for Deondre Johnson’s 100-yard kickoff return to start the game. The Gamecocks kicked to a known dangerous return man, and a line-drive kickoff didn’t help. Otherwise, JSU’s special teams came up with two Alen Karajic field goals, 38 and 43 yards, and came up with two big turnovers.
JSU had the right plan, emphasizing the running game against Mercer and in a rain-soaked game, and JSU executed well. Too, JSU’s defense adjusted to what it saw in Mercer’s first drive, giving up just a short-field touchdown after a turnover and a garbage-time score late.
The big picture here is that JSU won its only home game of 2020, leaving a positive taste in the mouths of fans who’d like to forget the Gamecocks’ 6-6 powerdown in 2019. JSU fans last saw their team win at home 13 days short of a year ago.