Sorting through a host of disappointing pieces in Southern’s season-opening 33-7 loss to Tennessee State, second-year coach Stump Mitchell said one of them stood out to him: third downs.

All too often, on third down, Mitchell’s offense struggled.

All too often, on third down, the Tigers found ways to keep their drives alive.

“We knew we had to convert on third down,” Mitchell said. “We practiced it. We did better in practice than we did in the game.”

Southern was 3-for-12 on third downs Saturday night at LP Field in Nashville, Tenn. Unable to sustain long drives, the Jaguars had to keep their defense on the field for long stretches during the first half as TSU took a 27-0 lead.

Eight of Southern’s 13 possessions lasted three or fewer plays.

“I thought we came out and hit a couple passes (early on),” Mitchell said. “But then, on third down, we weren’t able to convert, and that hurt us. ... And there were third-down situations that we should’ve converted. Because they were medium range, 4 or 5 or 6 yards. And we just didn’t hit the throws.”

Conversely, the Tigers were 7-for-16 on third downs, but they were very successful early on, converting on five of their first seven attempts.

TSU converted four times when they faced a third-and-10 or longer. That helped the Tigers keep the ball for 19 minutes, 39 seconds in the first half.

Numbers to know

• 12:02. Tennessee State’s possession time in the second quarter, during which the Tigers turned a 13-0 lead into a 27-0 lead.

• 11. Southern, which led the nation last season with 104.1 penalty yards per game last season, committed 11 penalties for 95 yards Saturday.

• 7. Southern is on a seven-game losing streak, which began with a 49-45 loss at Jackson State last season. The Jaguars’ last win came Oct. 9, when they defeated Mississippi Valley 38-20 at A.W. Mumford Stadium.

Worth repeating

“A couple times, you would’ve thought that they had the guy stopped, and somehow their backs — which we know are pretty good — ended up breaking loose and gaining additional yardage.”

Mitchell, on the Tennessee State rushing game

“In the game of football, you’re going to have your ups and downs. Even Peyton Manning makes millions of dollars, and in one game, he threw six interceptions. In this first game, I threw one. Sometimes, it’s just like that.”

SU quarterback Dray Joseph, who threw for 122 yards and one interception Saturday.

Up next

Southern hosts Alabama A&M at 6 p.m. Saturday in its Southwestern Athletic Conference opener at A.W. Mumford Stadium.

A&M suffered a 21-20 loss to Hampton on Saturday.

The teams played Sept. 25 in Normal, Ala., when the Bulldogs had 455 yards of offense and forced three turnovers in a 34-14 victory over Southern.