Four downs: Alabama State at Southern _lowres

Advocate staff photo by HILARY SCHEINUK -- Southern University helmet

1. GETTING THEIR KICKS It will be strength against strength when Texas Southern kicks or punts the ball to Southern on Saturday night. The Jaguars have the most productive return game in the Southwestern Athletic Conference, leading in kickoff return average (26.1 yards) and ranking third in punt return average (14.4). The Tigers lead in kickoff coverage (41.1) and rank second in net punting (38.6). The Jaguars, who rank third in net punting themselves (37.2), have returned three kickoffs (one each by Willie Quinn, Danny Johnson and Jaleel Richardson) and one punt (Quinn) for touchdowns.

2. THIRD DOWN FOR WHAT? Southern’s offense is trying to duplicate the Jaguars defense’s improvement on third down. Southern was last in the SWAC in third-down defense midway through the season, but in the last 10 quarters it has allowed just 31 percent on third-down conversions after allowing 47 percent before that. It now ranks ninth (42.6). The offense converted just 32 percent (6-of-19) in a 28-21 victory against Alabama State last week. “It’s getting better defensively,” coach Dawson Odums said, “but offensively we’ve got to stay on the field a little more on third down.”

3. RUNNING MAN The Southern defense was tested by the most productive running back in the SWAC (Alabama State’s Malcolm Cyrus) last week and now it faces the fourth-most productive runner in Daveonn Porter, who averages 91.9 yards per game. Porter sat out last week’s game to rest an injury, but he has been cleared to play this week. He needs 173 yards to have a 1,000-yard rushing season and he has caught 24 passes for 221 yards and two touchdowns. Cyrus had 185 yards, 118 of which came on two runs, and two touchdowns.

4. KILLING TIME The Tigers rank high in defense, leading the SWAC in pass defense (196.3), and ranking second in total defense (361.6), third in scoring defense (28.3) and sixth in run defense (165.2). Part of the reason for the defensive numbers is that TSU possesses the football more than any other team in the conference with an average of 33 minutes, 8 seconds. Time of possession has not been a strength for Southern, which is seventh (28:36), though last week the Jaguars won time of possession (33:22) for the first time in a SWAC game this season.