Gragg caught seven passes and Mitchell added four. They combined for 232 yards receiving as quarterback Tyler Wilson gobbled up the blitzes that seemed to come on every play. Those three played above the Gamecocks down the field
Gragg caught touchdown passes on back-to-back drives and Mitchell set up the next two scores with catches of 34 and 37 as the Hogs scored 28 straight second-quarter points to take control of the game.
They stepped up after the Hogs lost bell cow wideout Codi Hamilton on the first play of their second possession to a minor neck injury. Suddenly, Wilson found himself without all four of the big wideouts that carried the team to 10-3 and 11-2 the last two years. It turned out it was no big deal.
"They blitzed and left Greg and Brandon with linebackers and we went down the seams," Wilson said. "Those guys have big bodies, but you better not underestimate their speed. Linebackers can't run with them and that's what we got tonight."
Offensive coordinator Paul Petrino didn't like the ball security from Wilson, Gragg and running back Ronnie Wingo. All three lost fumbles without a lot of contact.
"We have to learn how to take care of the football, but we showed we can handle the blitz," Petrino said. "Tyler was getting the blitz checks perfect. They were blitzing 70 percent of the time -- 11 straight plays at one point. We did really good against it."
Petrino was pleased with the way Mitchell performed in his first college start. The fourth-year junior was solid in the check system.
"Early in the game when Cobi went out, Brandon Mitchell was one of the guys on the sideline who showed leadership and said he was going to step up," Petrino said. "And he did. I thought we had some others step up, too. Javontee Herndon stepped up, too."
Herndon had four catches for 96 yards, including a 63-yard bomb in the third quarter when Wilson found him matched against a linebacker, too.
Wilson smiled when someone reminded him that there had been predictions that the Hogs would be less vertical without Joe Adams, Jarius Wright and Greg Childs.
"We still have speed and we are going to find the mismatches and go down the field," he said. "We still have that."
Petrino said that's just a misconception.
"We are going down the field," he said. "We are going to go where the defense lets us go. We aren't any different in that respect."
Mitchell said he knew it was his time to step up, but he thought he had company.
"Look at the way the catches were spread around," Mitchell said. "I think we had seven different wideouts or tight ends with catches.
"I think you see how tough it is to cover Chris Gragg with a linebacker. Mostly, linebackers are 4.7. He's 4.3 or 4.4 in the 40. They were sticking the middle linebacker or the safety on him tonight. He's going to get that guy every time."
It wasn't just the speed difference. Often Gragg and Mitchell were working against 5-11 (or smaller) defenders in the Jacksonville State secondary. It just wasn't a fair match.
Wilson was on target, too. Petrino couldn't find much to fault in his quarterback's accuracy.
"Tyler had two throws he missed all night," he said. "He made good decisions on a few to throw them away. But the only two he missed were an out and also the one down the middle to Gragg.
"I don't think he was touched when he dropped the ball. He's got to do a better job there. But he was pretty good tonight."
Petrino said he enjoyed the game, his first on the sideline in awhile.
"I think you feel the competitive juices flow more down there and that's just awesome," Petrino said. "It's fun to be down there and compete. When I realize that it's not fun to compete, then you need to get out. I thought it was a lot of fun to be down there with the players and compete."
That was the good stuff from the opener. The defensive takes weren't as good. Defensive coordinator Paul Haynes second guessed his decision to stay in vanilla looks out of the nickel against Jacksonville State's three wide formations.
"We were in nickel all night and we expected that," he said. "But we could have done a few more things and that's on me. What you have is an option team that you know it's tough to blitz. So I was a little too cautious.
"What they do is get you in a lot of man-to-man and then you worry about contain if you blitz. I probably could have taken a few more chances and helped our guys with some pressures.
"What you know is that they are a running football team. So we wanted to put them in position to throw. We wanted to stop the run and we did alright there. We didn't tackle well enough. We have to keep improving there."
Haynes said he was disappointed early in the game with technique.
"It was the eye control that I didn't like," he said. "We didn't have much discipline with our eyes. It got better as the game went along and that was a positive. We gave up some third-down plays and that's what I was talking about as far as the calls. Put that on me.
"We did make a couple of adjustments at halftime and got after their quarterback a little more on third down."
There was probably some rust with linebackers Alonzo Highsmith and Tenarius Wright. Head coach John L. Smith said everyone could tackle better, starting with the linebackers.
And there was probably some rust with running back Knile Davis, returning after missing the 2011 season with a broken ankle.
"I thought he was good, but he's going to get better next week and he'll be even better the week after that," Smith said of Davis. "He's still really good at where he was tonight. He got after it pretty good. I think people have a hard time realizing what he was doing tonight, coming back from a year off. That's not easy. But he looked good considering that."
Davis was smiling afterwards.
"I felt good, like my old self," he said. "But I hope to get better than than the way I played tonight. I missed some things. Like on our first touchdown drive, there was a hole on the second try on the goal line and I just missed it."