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Report card: Grading JSU's offense, defense, coaching in victory over Mercer

JSU Mercer action

Jacksonville State's Zerrick Cooper and Dave Russell III celebrate after a JSU TD during the Mercer vs JSU NCAA football game. Photo by Stephen Gross / The Anniston Star

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:

Offense: B

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.

Defense: B

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.

Coaching: A

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.

Overall: A-

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.

Sports Writer Joe Medley: 256-235-3576. On Twitter: @jmedley_star.