Mark Edwards: JSU moves on from thrilling win over FSU and grinds down UNA

·4 min read

Sep. 19—JACKSONVILLE — After that incredible win last week at Florida State, Jacksonville State looked set for a big fall.

The Gamecocks beat a team from a Power Five conference, and they did it on the last play.

They celebrated for a long time afterward on the field. People took pictures.

They got on all the news networks. ESPN showed the game-winning 59-yard touchdown pass across all its platforms for the rest of the weekend.

Sports Illustrated called for interviews before JSU's team had even left the field. Other news organizations followed.

Everyone's phone blew up. Head coach John Grass said he received more than 200 text messages offering congratulations. Social media blew up, too.

For a few days there, you couldn't get away from that win, even if you'd wanted to.

So ... how often do you see a team win like that and then come out flat the following week?

JSU didn't. On Saturday night, they rewarded a home crowd of 20,992 by grinding out a 27-24 win over old rival North Alabama, which is now 0-3 but played its best game of the year.

Certainly, that win over FSU affected the Gamecocks physically. Grass said afterward that his team got beat up. The injury list was long.

For example, star safety Nicario Harper didn't play Saturday. He spent the night shuffling around the sideline with a walking boot on his right foot.

But mentally? JSU was all in, ready to play.

It wasn't the perfect win, but neither was the one over Florida State.

While the Gamecocks celebrated at Florida State, Grass already worried his team might go splat against UNA. As he walked off the turf at Doak Campbell Stadium, he told one of his assistant coaches that the players needed to get their heads out of the clouds and feet on the ground pretty quickly.

He told the team the same thing in the locker room.

They were allowed to enjoy the win that night, but when the buses pulled out the next morning for the trip home, they needed to start thinking about the next game. Most every team across the country hears some version of that speech after a particularly big win. Some listen, some don't.

JSU listened, and after the win over UNA, Grass said if his players hadn't, they would've lost. It wasn't just being in the moment Saturday night but also during the week of practice.

It's good to keep focus when the rest of the college football world wants to talk about that fabulous ending.

It's even better to keep focus when a Wednesday injury to starting quarterback Zerrick Cooper nearly derails the week.

Grass said "somebody got on the ground" and rolled into Cooper, bringing him down, too. The result was a sprained MCL in his right knee, and he was out for the UNA game.

At first, JSU thought it was worse than it was. Grass wondered if it might be a season-ending injury.

Fortunately, it isn't, but it's to the Gamecocks' credit that they moved forward with true freshman backup Matthew Caldwell and kept working.

Although Caldwell is in his first year in college football, he's from a big-time high school program at Auburn High School. He's more mature than the typical true freshman, and he handled his battle-field promotion well.

Like his team, he didn't play the perfect game, but he did the basics well enough in his first start. He handled business, including an excellent decision to keep the ball on his touchdown run late in the game.

He was supposed to hand it off, but he noticed the defense was flowing in that direction, leaving him a path to the end zone if he kept it instead. Grass complimented his decision afterward.

As for the win, defensive back Malik Feaster credited Grass for his "head in the clouds, feet on the ground" speech after the win over FSU.

But, the players deserve credit, too, because they're the ones who showed they could soak in a big win and still be ready to play again seven days later.

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

Our goal is to create a safe and engaging place for users to connect over interests and passions. In order to improve our community experience, we are temporarily suspending article commenting