ITTA BENA, Miss. — Southern University totally took Mississippi Valley State’s top offensive weapon out of the game.
Valley senior wide receiver Paul Cox, a 6-foot-5, 205-pounder from Franklin, La., came into Saturday’s game ranked second in the Southwestern Athletic Conference in receiving yards (323), third in yards per catch (17.9) and sixth in receptions (18).
But Cox was a non-factor against the Jaguars’ aggressive man-to-man defense as Southern held on for a 28-21 victory before an announced crowd of 4,982 at Rice-Totten Stadium.
Cox was held to three catches for 28 yards.
With Southern (2-3, 2-2 in Southwestern Athletic Conference) clinging to a 28-21 lead midway through the fourth quarter, back-up quarterback Marvin Pittman threw a high pass to Cox near the goal line on a fourth-and-8 at the Jaguars 26-yard line. But cornerback Virgil Williams, giving up seven inches to Cox, leaped up and batted the ball away.
Moving from the zone coverage, Southern used mostly in the first four games to man-to-man, senior Demetric Rogers said he and his fellow defensive backs were determined not to let Cox beat them.
“We knew they like to go vertical with him and throw up jump balls. I talked with the defensive coaches this week about going man against them, and they gave us a chance,” Rogers said. “We knew we had to answer the challenge. We don’t like to play zone because we’re a pretty good secondary.
“It’s our job to lock up receivers, and we did that today.”
MVSU (0-5, 0-4), which has now lost 16 straight, played the entire game with backup quarterback Pittman, who started in place of injured Garrick Jones (high ankle sprain).
With the defensive backs locked up in man coverage, it allowed the Jaguars to bring the heat on Pittman.
“Garrick gives us the best chance to win, but the doctor suggested he rest his ankle this week. Pittman did some good things, but he also did some bad things,” Valley coach Karl Morgan said. “They put pressure on him, and we couldn’t get the ball to Cox. We thought we could make some plays with him against the man coverage, but they did a good job on him.”
The SU defense held Pittman to 62 yards on 8-of-25 passing and intercepted three of his passes.
Southern’s defense started the scoring when junior defensive back De’Mekus Cook ripped the ball away from Valley receiver Tevin Nelson and raced 58 yards for a touchdown.
“The coaches talked all week about forcing more turnovers, and I knew I had to make a big play early,” Cook said. “They competed with us until the end, but we came away with the victory.”
The Jaguars snapped a streak of seven quarters without a sack when defensive end Jeffrey Watkins, a freshman, hit Pittman for an 8-yard loss on the game’s first possession.
Southern finished with three sacks and kept pressure on Pittman the whole way.