Stump Mitchell isn’t a big numbers guy.
Told he was too short and too slow to play in the NFL, Southern University’s second-year football coach believed he could make it because of what scouts couldn’t measure. When he talks, words like “heart” and “effort” often come up.
In his case Mitchell, was right; he lasted nine years with the Cardinals.
Still, Mitchell knows he can’t disregard numbers altogether. Sometimes, they tell a powerful story.
At 6 p.m. Saturday in Nashville, Tenn., the Jaguars face Tennessee State in LP Field, anxious to make fans forget about last year’s 2-9 disaster.
But when they line up against TSU, they’ll get an up-close look at a huge offensive line.
Just look at the numbers.
Their projected starters weigh in at a combined 1,562 pounds, an average of 312 per man.
Behind that massive line, Tennessee State intends to run. Though the Tigers went 3-8 in their first year under coach Rod Reed, they ranked 24th in the nation with 190 rushing yards per game.
Translation: In this season-opening showdown between two proud programs, TSU’s offense would love to play the role of giant meat tenderizer, pounding the Southern defense with blow after blow.
How, then, do the Jaguars brace for a grueling, physical ground game?
They have a few ideas.
• Play a little keep-away.
“We have to play well, offensively. And we have to keep the defense off the field some, because that’s a huge offensive line,” Mitchell said. “They’re huge on the defensive line, too, but we have more bulk on our side, offensively, that can match up with their defensive guys.”
• Throw a few changeups.
Southern has occasionally used a 4-3 alignment during practice, and though its base defense is a 3-4, Mitchell said the team will utilize both against Tennessee State.
Defensive coordinator O’Neill Gilbert said the team will also use different packages out of its 3-4, bringing linebacker Demetrius Bentley to the line of scrimmage and using him as a speed rusher.
“We’ll do whatever it takes,” Gilbert said. “If they start to maul us a little bit - because they are a big, veteran team - then we’re going to have to move. We can’t sit there and go toe-to-toe with them on every play.”
• Play like they practiced.
Gilbert noted Tuesday that during preseason scrimmages, Southern’s offense sometimes put together 10- and 12-play drives.
“We made the guys stay out there and not substitute,” Gilbert said. “So I think they’re somewhat battle-tested. The difference, I think, in this group, is that we have a few leaders out there that will not let them quit.”
Speaking of leaders ...
Players stepping up
Among others, Mitchell praised the preseason leadership of senior linebacker Jamie Payton, who transferred to SU from NAIA Lambuth University and made a noticeable impact on the team’s work ethic.
“I was pleased with the way the guys have come together,” Mitchell said.
Mitchell also singled out offensive linemen Lee Almanza and Chris Browne, as well as quarterback Dray Joseph.
Speaking of Joseph ...
Time after time, from spring practice through summer camp, Mitchell said his quarterbacks have to be more accurate than they were last season, when they completed only 47 percent of their passes.
Joseph, he said, has completed about 64 percent of his throws since practice began Aug. 5.
“So we’ve definitely gotten better in that area, and some of it is just familiarity in our offense now,” he said. “Guys understand what we expect from every play.”
Mitchell added that Joseph, now a sophomore, has improved his footwork, his reads and the timeliness of his release.
Rice out; fullbacks on call
Although tailback Brandon Rice returned to practice Tuesday, Mitchell said the junior probably won’t play in Nashville and could miss the team’s first three games.
Though he reiterated that senior Kaelan Mayfield will start, and that several other tailbacks will shuttle in and out, sophomore fullbacks Brian McCain and Lee Mitchell will also carry the ball at times.
As true freshmen, the fullbacks had 40 rushing yards on 11 carries.
New website in works
Sports information director Christopher Jones said Southern has signed an contract with NeuLion, a Sanford, Fla.-based company that will help the athletic department develop a new website. NeuLion provides Internet services for Duke, Oregon and LSU, among others.
Southern hopes to have a new website up and running this season; it will replace the currently defunct gojagsports.com and figures to include more video options than its predecessor.
“We will also have access to an iPhone app,” Jones said.
The SU Unification Organization is sponsoring a bus trip to Nashville. The cost is $220 for a single person, $320 for couples. For information, call (225) 355-6886 or (225) 357-3833. ... Tuesday’s news conference was sponsored by the SU Quarterback Club, which footed the bill for lunch. ... The team will leave for Nashville at 2 p.m. Thursday from the A.W. Mumford Field House, and plans to practice Friday at LP Field.