Maybe he didn’t get the result he was looking for. Maybe he didn’t make all the right calls. And maybe Stump Mitchell’s football team fell agonizingly short last weekend, losing by four points to rival Jackson State.
But here’s one thing Mitchell really enjoyed about the Southern’s game at A.W. Mumford Stadium: the buzz.
“It was a great atmosphere,” he said. “I think that is what college football should feel like. It should always be like that.”
This week probably won’t be much different.
This week, there’s another big game to prepare for, another heated rival to face.
This week, it’s Southern and Florida A&M.
At 2:30 p.m. Saturday in the Georgia Dome, the Jaguars (1-2) and Rattlers (1-2) square off in the Atlanta Football Classic.
It’s the 58th meeting between the two teams - and much like Southern’s rivalry with Jackson State, this series between is a big one for both fan bases.
It’s unlikely the 71,250-seat Georgia Dome will sell out, but Saturday’s showdown is drawing heavy interest for a Football Championship Subdivision game, in part because both schools have significant alumni bases in the Atlanta area.
But don’t be mistaken: The game is sure to draw thousands from Louisiana, as well.
Here’s an example. One booster group, the SU Unification Organization, sponsored a bus trip for the game. Demand was so high that the group added a second bus. That one sold out, too.
“Florida A&M - no question about it, they’re going to take their fans,” Mitchell said. “Hopefully, our fans that are from that region, and fans from this area as well, will travel to make that a fantastic Classic. And I think it will be.”
History suggests as much.
FAMU and Southern first played in 1941, and the two schools played every season from 1946-2001. The teams did not play again until the 2007 MEAC/SWAC Challenge, when the Jaguars outlasted FAMU 33-27.
They met again the following year in A.W. Mumford Stadium, when the Rattlers rallied in the closing minutes for a wild 52-49 victory.
Since then, they haven’t met. And since then, so many things have changed.
Mitchell is the coach at Southern now, having replaced Pete Richardson. Though his first team at Southern was memorable for the wrong reasons, posting a 2-9 record, Mitchell’s second team is showing signs of improvement.
Though their running game is stagnant and special-teams units are shaky of late, the Jaguars showed over the past two weeks that they can at least be competitive in the Southwestern Athletic Conference.
SU rebounded from a gruesome 33-7 season-opening loss at Tennessee State with a breakout performance in the home opener, when it defeated Alabama A&M 21-6.
Last weekend, the Jaguars had to lament all the opportunities they wasted in a 28-24 home loss to JSU (those blown opportunities included five takeaways and five scoreless possessions in JSU territory).
“I think our guys will bounce back from this loss,” Mitchell said. “It wasn’t like we didn’t play a team that’s very capable. ... You always want to be competitive, but the final result is that you want to win the football game. Unfortunately, we came up on the short end.”
Meanwhile, Joe Taylor is in his fourth year at FAMU - and in a rare sight, his team is struggling.
In the season opener, the Rattlers had to rally late in the fourth quarter to beat Division II Fort Valley State 28-22.
The following week, FAMU lost at Hampton 23-17.
Then there was last weekend, when the Rattlers headed to Tampa, Fla., and were overmatched in a 70-17 loss to South Florida.
“We knew it was a tall order, but when you play this game it gives you a barometer for where you are,” Taylor said. “We have eight games remaining, and I have no problem believing that we can win all eight. We got better. It might not look like it by the score, but we did get better.”
Mitchell remembers Taylor well. From 1996-98, they squared off three times, back when Mitchell coached at Morgan State and Taylor was building a powerhouse at Hampton.
Taylor won two of those three meetings.
“I know one thing: FAMU has an outstanding coach in coach Taylor,” Mitchell said. “He is probably one of several coaches that have coached at the HBCUs that could’ve coached at a major college or ... in a professional league, given the chance - if that had been his goal and desire.
“So I know the type of man that he is, and I know the type of football team that he’s going to bring. And for whatever the reason is, they’re struggling right now. But I’m sure it’s not something that he (doesn’t) think he can fix.”
The Jaguars have to hope he doesn’t fix it this week.