In a wild, exciting showdown with Jackson State on Saturday night, Southern’s defense turned in an admirable performance, often giving its offense a chance to put the Tigers away.
But in a 28-24 loss at A.W. Mumford Stadium, the Jaguars got burned — or burned themselves — on third down.
Despite forcing five turnovers, Southern’s defense allowed the Tigers to convert on 10 of 18 third downs. That kept the SU defense on the field for much of the night — 35:01, to be precise — and took its toll in the fourth quarter, when JSU put together a game-winning drive.
The third-down pattern has haunted the Jaguars (1-2, 1-1 Southwestern Athletic Conference) in all three games, though it didn’t hurt them in last week’s 21-6 win over Alabama A&M.
This season, opponents are 24-for-53 (45 percent) on third downs.
“I wish (the defense) could’ve gotten off the field a couple times on third-and-long situations, when we were not able to make a play,” second-year coach Stump Mitchell said. “But they’re working extremely hard, and Jackson State did what we couldn’t do on third down. And we didn’t convert enough.”
That, too, was true.
The Jaguars headed into the fourth quarter with a 24-21 lead on Jackson State but couldn’t hold it — in part because the offense stalled on third downs, going 0-for-4 in the final 11 minutes.
Southern is 11-for-39 (28 percent) on third downs this season, including 2-for-8 in the fourth quarter.
Saturday night, Mitchell lamented all the opportunities his team missed to grab a larger lead against Jackson State.
“We had too many turnovers,” he said.
Actually, the Jaguars had only one turnover. It came early in the second quarter, when receiver Lee Doss, fighting for extra yards, fumbled inside the JSU 5-yard line.
Mike Hill stripped Doss, and linebacker Todd Wilcher recovered it at the JSU 2.
But Southern had a number of other miscues. Though they weren’t technically turnovers, they had a similar effect.
On their first possession of the third quarter, the Jaguars drove to the JSU 11 and set up for a 28-yard field goal, but they botched the snap and turned the ball over on downs.
Much later, after a fourth-quarter drive fizzled, Justin Williams snapped a ball over the head of punter Manuel Canto, who tried to scramble for a first down but took a 4-yard loss.
Numbers to know
82. Through three games, SU has a total of 82 rushing yards. The Jaguars ran for 37 yards against Tennessee State, 26 yards against Alabama A&M and 19 yards against JSU.
74. Through three games, Southern’s defense has played 74 more snaps than its offense.
7. Southern had seven possessions in the final 21 minutes of Saturday’s game. All seven possessions lasted five or fewer plays.
“We knew we were going to stand toe to toe. What we didn’t know (was) that we were going to have the breakdowns on offense and special teams. We felt we were going to win this football game.”
“We had a lot of trips in the red zone, and we need to capitalize on them. It was the same thing last week. So it came back to bite us.”
SU quarterback Dray Joseph
Southern’s intense schedule continues with another game against a historical rival: Florida A&M at 2:30 p.m. Saturday in Georgia Dome for the Atlanta Football Classic.
The Rattlers (1-2) are coming off back-to-back losses. They opened their season with a 28-22 victory over Division II Fort Valley State, then lost Sept. 8 at Hampton, 23-17.
Saturday, in a 70-17 loss at South Florida, FAMU punted nine times and allowed 745 yards of offense.