JACKSONVILLE — Jacksonville State's John Grass usually comes into his regular Monday game-week news conference like a whirlwind.
He's got a big smile and shakes hands with anyone in reach as he walks quickly to the table in front of the room, ready to talk about his team as long as anyone needs. On this Monday, after a crushing 22-17 loss two days earlier at UT Martin, Grass's walk was still swift and his willingness to discuss his Gamecocks was still there.
The smile wasn't quite as bright. Asked by a reporter how he was doing, Grass gave a half-smile and answered, "Been better."
That loss to UT Martin didn't mathematically eliminate JSU (6-4, 3-3 OVC) from gaining at least a share of the Ohio Valley Conference title, but the Gamecocks will need so many events to happen, that the race is as good as finished. For example, JSU would need Eastern Illinois (0-9, 0-5) to beat Austin Peay (6-3, 4-1) and possibly Southeast Missouri (6-3, 4-1), too.
JSU's hopes for the FCS playoffs might be finished, too.
Even so, Grass emphasized several times Monday that he has no problem with the recent effort and desire of his players, even when JSU has lost.
"These guys have done everything I've asked them to do," he said. "So, I've got to ask them to do a little bit more. That starts with me. I got up this morning, I go to work, and I'm going to do a better job than I did last week.
"We're still going to compete. We're going to do things the right way. We're the same people. I put a lot of value in how we represent our university. That means more to me than just winning games."
Grass said that even with two losses in the last three games, he has seen the type of improvement from his players that he wanted all along. As for Saturday's loss, Grass said, "Our bunch battled."
"We're playing better at the line of scrimmage," he said. "It was just a great football game on Saturday. You play two or three of those games every year that are possession-type ballgames. We've always been able to make enough of those plays to win those games. We just didn't do that on Saturday."
Grass acknowledged that JSU can ask, "What if?" after a game like that. JSU had seven dropped passes, including one on a fourth-down throw. UT Martin returned a punt for a touchdown. The Gamecocks missed a field goal.
Even so, Grass added that UT Martin can point at other plays and see opportunities to put away the Gamecocks sooner. JSU stopped two drives on its 1-yard line, allowing only three combined points.
"You look back through the years, they're well coached, got really good football players," Grass said. "I thought they were the most complete offense we've played all year. We just come up short.
"I'm proud of our guys as well. We've had some games where we didn't play very well. We've gone out and laid an egg. We didn't play very well against Austin Peay. We didn't play very well against (Southeastern Louisiana), but in the last three to four weeks, this football team has made a lot of improvement. I'm proud of that."
Grass said the biggest goal for JSU at this point is to win the final two regular-season games. The Gamecocks will play at Tennessee Tech on Saturday at 1:30 p.m. and Eastern Kentucky at home Nov. 23 at 1 p.m. He wants the team's seniors to leave with an 8-4 regular-season record.
He added that he understands JSU supporters want more. He said he wants more.
"It's a result industry," he said. "We want to win games. We understand that."
He added, "You learn lessons from the football seasons. That's the reason I coach. I learn life lessons from it. Being able to teach young men that and grow young men that, that's a value I put on it."