JSU football: Grass talks next opponent's strength, Cooper's status, Gowdy's student teaching

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Sep. 21—Jacksonville State will host its second straight home game Saturday, and the visitor is Tennessee-Martin, a former Ohio Valley Conference rival that hasn't won at Jacksonville since 1987.

UTM (2-1) has lost to Western Kentucky 59-21 and beaten Samford 33-27 and Northwestern State 35-10. They're coached by Jason Simpson, a JSU assistant in the 1990s and the Skyhawks' head coach since 2006.

When meeting with reporters Tuesday by video conference, JSU coach John Grass said it won't be easy to get another victory.

"Coach Simpson does a great job," Grass said. "I think this is his most talented team he's had since I've been playing them. They've got an older football team. They've added eight or nine transfers. They've got a quarterback who can spin it around really good.

"Their receiving corps is probably as good as we've played. You watch them on tape, and down the line, they're probably as good as people you're going to see. They're explosive offensively, and defensively, they're an older bunch that gets after you."

Here are six highlights from Grass' time with the reporters.

1. 'Day to day'

Grass said he couldn't say for certain whether quarterback Zerrick Cooper will be available Saturday.

Cooper sprained his MCL in his knee Wednesday and missed Saturday's 27-24 win over North Alabama. Freshman Matthew Caldwell got his first collegiate start in Cooper's place.

Grass also couldn't provide a definitive answer about All-America safety Nicaro Harper or running back Pat Jackson. Both missed the UNA game with ankle issues.

"It's a day-by-day process," Grass said. "At this point, you don't know."

There are others who Grass said are banged up.

"A lot of ankle stuff," Grass said. "You don't know how they're going to progress during the week."

He added, "A rash of ankles, for sure."

2. Caldwell's day

True freshman Matthew Caldwell, an Auburn High School graduate, got the start Saturday against UNA and he completed 10 of 19 passes for 98 yards. He rushed five times for 27 yards and scored a touchdown.

While the numbers weren't eye-popping, Caldwell drew praise for what Grass called his "poise."

"The team rallied around the freshman," Grass said. "He was able to play pretty well and move the offense and get scores and win the game.

JSU cornerback Yul Gowdy called Caldwell "determined."

"On his touchdown run, Matt wouldn't let nobody stop him from getting into the end zone," he said. "I love it. He played with a lot of confidence. For it being his first time out there, you think you'll see nervousness. There was none of that."

3. Benton's day

JSU linebacker Markail Benton, a second-team All-Ohio Valley Conference selection this past spring, missed the first half of the UNA game because of a targeting call in the second half of the previous game against Florida State. A targeting penalty results in the suspension of the player for the next full half, which was against UNA.

Even so, Benton managed a team-high seven tackles against the Lions.

"You watch Markail play, and he plays with a lot of energy," Grass said. "You love the way he plays the game."

Gowdy put it more colorfully.

"Kel brings the juice to the defense," Gowdy said. "If Kel is out there, you're going to know Kel is out there. He's going to do something to bring the juice. Screaming, he'll just walk out there screaming. Anything to bring the juice, Kel is going to do it."

4. Starting tight end

JSU redshirt freshman Sean Brown hasn't caught a pass in his college career, but he's earned praise for winning a starting job at tight end.

He's started all three games this season and is listed with the first team for Saturday's game against Tennessee-Martin.

Backup Jacob Jenkins has two catches and shares time with Brown.

"I think he's playing really well," Grass said. "He's a talented guy who has caught on the offense really good. ... He's a physical guy. He's still got to get some things corrected. He's still making those freshman mistakes every now and then, but overall, he's playing really well."

5. Gowdy, the teacher

Gowdy is balancing football season with his student teaching this fall, which he has done at several schools in the area.

He works with several different age groups

"Right now, I just left Cleburne County High School where I was working with sixth through eighth grade," Gowdy said Tuesday afternoon. "I went to Munford. (On Wednesday), I start at Lincoln Elementary, where I'll be doing (kindergarten) through 5. Then I'll go to Jacksonville High School where I'll be teaching seventh grade health."

Gowdy, known as one of the most upbeat and fun personalities on the JSU team, acknowledges he gets something from being around the students.

"Every time I got a school, they're like, 'Hey, Coach G, I saw you on TV. We came to the game,'" he said. "I told my seventh-grade class it was my last day, and they was like, 'No, no, we gotta come to the game.' And I was like, 'Y'all come on. Let me know when you're coming, and I'll put y'all on somebody's list.'"

6. Afternoon game

JSU's game against Tennessee-Martin will kick off at 3 p.m. The past two games against Florida State and North Alabama were night games.

"I wish we could play every game at 7 o'clock," Gowdy said. "The day games, we have to get up early and everything, but the night games, we get to sleep in.

"Like at Florida State, we had breakfast, lunch and a kind of dinner for pregame. We were eating."

Senior Editor Mark Edwards: 256-235-3570. On Twitter: @MarkSportsStar.

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