Alcorn State is leading the Southwestern Athletic Conference East Division in spite of itself.
Championship contenders usually minimize self-inflicted wounds. But the Braves, who are reigning SWAC champions, have been the worst team in the conference in turnover margin and penalties. They enter their game at Southern on Saturday averaging 94 yards in penalties per game and they are minus-7 in turnovers.
In its last game two weeks ago — a 35-34 loss to Grambling — Alcorn lost just 48 yards on eight penalties, but it was minus-1 in turnovers after losing three fumbles. The Tigers scored 10 points after two of the fumbles, which contributed to a one-point loss that ended when Grambling blocked an extra point in overtime.
The Braves also missed a field goal and turned the ball over on downs twice.
“It’s no secret that we turned the ball over at some inopportune times last week,” Alcorn coach Jay Hopson said. “That’s one thing we talked about. You’re not going to beat a team like Grambling if you give them the ball four times. Certainly that’s something we can ill-afford to do and we have to end that.”
If the Braves continue with their turnover, trend they can remain hopeful, because last season they were minus-2 in turnovers and still beat Southern 56-16 in the regular season.
Former Greenie and Tiger
Hopson is familiar with Louisiana.
He has the distinction of having been a graduate assistant at both Tulane and LSU. He was with the Green Wave in 1992 and with the Tigers in 1994.
Five Louisiana Braves
The Braves have five players from Louisiana, including three wide receivers — Brandon Vessell, a senior from Glen Oaks High School; George Tollette, a senior from Karr; and Troy Hobbs Jr., a sophomore from Marrero.
The other two players are freshmen — DB A.J. Bruce from Lake Providence and DE Theron Bonds from Ponchatoula.
Tillery setting the pace
After rushing for a career-high 196 yards against Texas Southern last week, Lenard Tillery is on pace for a second consecutive 1,000-yard season.
In fact, through seven games, he’s on a higher pace than last seasn.
Tillery leads the SWAC with an average of 104.6 yards, and if he continues his pace through the final four games, he would finish with 1,150 yards. Last season, he became the Jaguars first 1,000-yard rusher in 11 seasons when he gained 1,196 yards in 13 games.
Southern coach Dawson Odums said tests were negative on DL Donald Phillips’ injured foot.
Phillips will miss his second consecutive game Saturday but could return some time in November.
Odums said Malcolm Crockett remains Tillery’s primary backup. Crockett was benched in favor of John West after fumbling near the goal line in the second quarter against Texas Southern last week.
Record within reach
Return specialist Willie Quinn needs a punt return or a kickoff return for a touchdown to tie the Football Championship Subdivision record for returns for touchdowns in a single season.
Quinn, who has returned a kickoff for a touchdown in each of the last two games, has four kickoff returns and one punt return for touchdowns this season.
“Willie Quinn is just dynamic,” Hopson said. “Certainly if there’s a better punt returner in the country I need to see it on film, because he is an explosive football player that finds the end zone quite a bit. We play against Southern every year so we know what type of player he is.”
Bashir Levingston of Eastern Washington, Corey Smith of Montana State and LeRoy Vann of Florida A&M each had six toiuchdown returns in a season.
Follow Les East on Twitter: @EastAdvocate.