Five Fast Facts: John Grass gives injury update, talks special teams, and has kind words for a freshman

Mark Edwards, The Anniston Star, Ala.
·5 min read

Mar. 2—This week, it's Jacksonville State at Tennessee State, take two.

The Gamecocks originally were supposed to play the Tigers at Tennessee State's Hale Stadium on Feb. 21, but winter weather that struck the Nashville area forced a postponement.

The rescheduled game is set for Sunday at 2 p.m., and the forecast is better this time around. According to weather.com, it's supposed to be sunny this weekend, and the high for Sunday will be 59 degrees.

JSU head coach John Grass said his team is still preparing for wet turf.

"Coming out of all the snow and the ice and rain, and there's supposed to be more rain this week, I don't see it being a dry field at all," Grass said Tuesday at his weekly game-week news conference, which was conducted by video conferencing.

Here are five things Grass covered when he spoke with reporters:

1. Scouting

The good thing about JSU's game with the Tigers being postponed is that Grass and his staff now have recent video of Tennessee State, which didn't play in the fall because of COVID-19.

Tennessee State opened its spring season this past Sunday with a 27-20 loss at Austin Peay. Before that, the Tigers hadn't played since 2019.

"Now, we've gotten to see their personnel," Grass said. "They've got a game under their belt. We've got a game under our belt. You couldn't tell a lot about their football team personnel-wise from looking at tape that was almost two years old. Getting a game on them really, really helps us coming into this week."

2. Injury report

JSU cornerback Malik Feaster is out with an ankle injury and is out indefinitely. He got hurt in this past Sunday's 27-10 win over Tennessee Tech.

"He'll have surgery this week," Grass said. "He's got a high ankle sprain to go with a break there as well. He's going to be a six-to-eight-week guy. May get him back at the tail end of spring, but not anytime soon. I hate that for him. He was playing really well. He was probably playing at the highest level he's ever played at."

JSU already was missing cornerback Yul Gowdy, a favorite with the team because of his work ethic and personality.

"Yul will be back with us later in the spring," Grass said. "He's got a situation with his knee that he's had ongoing the last year or year and a half. We're trying to get him fully well."

In addition, quarterback Zion Webb is expected to be at full strength at practice this week. He was sick for much of last week, which Grass said limited what JSU asked him to do against Tennessee Tech.

"If we can keep him healthy and not get sick and have a full week of practice, he's going to be fine," Grass said. "You saw him struggle a little bit Sunday on throws he usually makes, it wasn't decision-making; it was just missing throws. That was just a lack of practice."

3. Special teams

Jacksonville State punted four times Sunday for an average of 29.8 yards a kick and gave up minus-1 return yards. Take out the 7-yard punt that Cole Porch shanked, and the average is 37.3 yards.

Porch punted three times for 27.7 yards a kick, and Jack Dawson punted once for 36 yards.

"Both are doing well," Grass said. "Jack punted the last one. Porch punted three times. We'd like to not punt that many times, but besides the one bad one, Porch did pretty good. Our coverage was excellent on all the punts."

Also, freshman kicker Alan Karajic kicked off six times with four touchbacks. Another was a fair catch at the 1-yard line, in which Tech started at the 25. Tech struggled to field one kick and wound up starting at the 14.

In 12 games in 2019, JSU managed a total of five touchbacks.

"When you see the percentages in football, the likelihood of scoring when you start inside the 30 as opposed to outside the 30, it changes dramatically," Grass said.

About Karajic, Grass said, "He's quite a weapon, not only in the field-goal situations but in kickoffs, too. Since I've been here, we haven't had anybody who can kick it consistently into the end zone."

4. Freshman starter

True freshman Jamari Jemison started Sunday at cornerback against Tennessee Tech, and he'll get the call again against Tennessee Tech.

He is 5-foot-10, 160 pounds and played at Minor HIgh School. Against Tech, he had a pair of tackles and broke up a pass.

"I think for the first game as a true freshman, he played really, really well," Grass said. "They caught one deep ball on him, but he was in great position. I think he's going to get better as he goes. He practices really hard every day. That's what you love.

"Sometimes you don't see that consistency from a freshman, but he does that. I think he deserved to start the game Sunday, and he played really well as the game went on. So, hopefully, he will get better and better."

5. Attendance

Jacksonville State drew 9.355 to its game Sunday against Tennessee Tech. Including the fall home game against Mercer, the Gamecocks are averaging 7,612 fans in their two home games. That figure leads the FCS.

JSU made room for about 12,000 for everyone at the game Sunday, including about 8,000 for general admission tickets.

"The student section, the Southerners, the cheering section — everybody just did a great job Sunday," Grass said. "Our loyal fans are always going to be there. That core of 8,000 to 12,000, it doesn't matter about the weather or what's going on, they're going to go watch the Gamecocks play football. It's always a thank you to that group that's going to come to games."

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