NORMAL, Ala. — Southern entered Saturday’s game against Alabama A&M with one of the worst defenses in the Southwestern Athletic Conference.
The Jaguars — who gave up almost 700 yards two weeks ago in a 56-14 loss to Alcorn State — came in allowing almost 38 points and 440 yards per game, and after the first half of Saturday’s 35-34 win over A&M, it appeared they would give up even more than that against the Bulldogs.
A&M finished with 293 yards in the first half and led 24-14 at intermission thanks in large part to its ability to convert on third down. The Bulldogs were 7-of-11 on third down. Southern, which allowed Alcorn State to convert 11-of-15 third downs, had allowed opposing teams to convert 45.3 percent of the time.
But after the Jaguars allowed 10 points in the first nine minutes of the third quarter, falling behind 34-14, they blanked Alabama A&M the rest of the way and came back to pull off a stunning victory when Malcolm Crockett scored on a 1-yard run with 51 seconds to go.
“It was a great (second) half,” defensive end Arthur Miley said after helping Southern hold A&M scoreless over its final eight possessions. “We went out there and made plays. Everybody knew we had to make plays and stay in our gaps. If we do that, we can play with anybody.”
Early on, however, the Jaguars struggled big-time.
A&M scored on its first four possessions and appeared to be on the verge of blowing Southern out.
Jaymason Lee threw two touchdown passes, Cesar Diaz-Ramon kicked a 36-yard field goal and Brandon Eldemire scored on a 2-yard run to stake the Bulldogs to a 24-14 halftime advantage.
“We came out flat in the first half,” said defensive back Dionte McDuffy, who finished with a game-high 10 tackles. “Coach (Dawson) Odums gave us a good talk at halftime ... telling us just to keep fighting and don’t give up and finish the game strong.
“We had a few mistakes that we had to get corrected. He kept telling us we’ve got to get off the field on third down. Third down is the money down, and we want to get off the field on third down. We came back out and dominated the second half.”
After Lee found Jonathan Dorsey with an 18-yard touchdown pass to give A&M a 34-14 lead with 6:08 to go in the third quarter, Southern got it going.
Austin Howard found Willie Quinn with a 79-yard touchdown pass to pull the Jaguars within 34-21, and Southern came alive.
“We needed a big spark from somebody and he made a play,” said Miley, who finished with eight tackles, including a sack. “That got everybody ready to play and we went out and got the job done.”
“I think it was just a mindset,” he said. “We played in the first half, but we didn’t play with any passion. We had some halftime motivation and better execution (in the second half).”
Over A&M’s final eight possessions, the Bulldogs punted five times, turned it over two other times, and the game ended on an incomplete pass.
“Mindset,” linebacker Demetrius Carter said, referring to Southern’s second-half success. “I had to have a conversation with my guys. We had some busts early. We came back out with a different mindset. We got some turnovers and some big plays. We played some great defense and some great offense. It was probably our best half as a team.”