Jacksonville State seeks growth during fall season

NCAA Football

(Stats Perform) – Four preseason scrimmages were more than usual at Jacksonville State, leaving coach John Grass to joke the Gamecocks will be pretty good if they keep facing themselves.

The reality is Jacksonville State opens its fall schedule with a tough assignment at Florida State on Saturday. Even though the Seminoles are 0-2, they’re a 26½-point favorite over a Gamecocks team which was 6-6 last year, ending 16 straight seasons finishing above .500.

“I go back to they’re still Florida State,” Grass said. “When they put that helmet on, they know who they are and they play like that.”

Considering the many interruptions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic this year, Grass believes no team should feel as well prepared entering the season as in past years. He has a 58-18 record in six seasons guiding the Gamecocks, who are opening their four-game fall season in October for the first time since 1926.

“We’ve not treated it exactly like fall camp, but we’ve been practicing for a long time to get to this point,” Grass said. “We’re so excited just to have a game. Difficult circumstances to prepare for – you don’t have a game in September and it’s October before you play. There’s no blueprint how you handle that and how you get ready, so we’ve done the very best we can do to prepare and handle the situation that we’ve had and having to prepare for a team that has already had two games.”

Florida State first-year coach Mike Norvell will be back on the sideline after he missed a blowout loss at Miami last Saturday because he was quarantined for 10 days following a positive test for coronavirus. The Seminoles and Jacksonville State have split two previous meetings, but Grass is 0-4 against FBS opponents. He was the Gamecocks’ offensive coordinator when they earned their most recent FBS win against Georgia State in 2013.

Jacksonville State boasts one of the top quarterbacks in the FCS with Zerrick Cooper. The fifth-year senior reunites with All-America tight end Trae Barry, who’s coming off a knee injury last season, but the Gamecocks are inexperienced at wide receiver. Their three projected starters, redshirt juniors Logan McVay and Quan Charleston and redshirt sophomore Dave Russell III, have a combined seven career receptions.

“We have to be more blue collar and more possession-type receivers,” Grass said. “I think there’s some ability there and they’ll kind of grow as we go and get better.”

In addition to facing Florida State, Jacksonville State will host Mercer (Oct. 10) and visit North Alabama (Oct. 17) and FIU (Oct. 23). The Gamecocks’ season will resume in the spring semester with a seven-game Ohio Valley Conference schedule.

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