In a lackluster season debut last week, the Southern University football team struggled to move the ball on offense and failed to stop the run on defense, which, obviously, is not a great combination.
But when the Jaguars face Alabama A&M at 6 p.m. Saturday in their Southwestern Athletic Conference opener, they might have a noticeable advantage in one area: special teams.
Southern blocked one field goal last week, when freshman linebacker Daniel Brown got his hand on a 30-yard attempt during the third quarter of a 33-7 loss in Nashville, Tenn., at Tennessee State.
Meanwhile, up in Chicago, Alabama A&M lined up for a potential game-winning field-goal attempt on the final play of a 21-20 loss to Hampton.
The kick, from 34 yards away, was blocked.
Still, 10th-year coach Anthony Jones said he isn’t overly concerned about his kicking team, noting that A&M did well enough on two previous field goals and two extra-point attempts.
“Our technique kind of went down the drain, and that created the problem for us. ... They’re very fixable problems,” Jones said.
“Our opponents will see them, of course. And if I were them, I’d try to come after them. But until you prove you can stand up to it, you’re going to have to weather the storm.”
Southern’s special-teams units were mostly reliable in an otherwise cringe-inducing game.
Manuel Canto averaged 41.4 yards on five punts, and though he failed pin Tennessee State inside its own 20-yard line, Canto came close twice; each time, the ball rolled into the end zone after it landed in the field of play.
Canto also averaged 54.5 yards per kickoff.
Virgil Williams averaged better than 20 yards on five kickoff returns, and on a second-quarter attempt was perhaps one or two moves away from breaking loose (he covered 30 yards on the return).
After evaluating Southern’s effort last week, second-year coach Stump Mitchell said he was actually pleased with the way his defense played — particularly in the second half, when it gave up two field goals.
The second-half effort was surprising, Mitchell said, considering that SU’s defense had been on the field for 12:02 of the second quarter, when Tennessee State turned a 13-0 lead into a 27-0 lead.
It was a sign that Southern’s defensive players had been well-conditioned in the heat of training camp — even if several of them suffered muscle cramps in Nashville, where the temperature was 96 degrees at kickoff Saturday.
“I just wasn’t pleased with the way we played offensively. ... We left our defense on the field too long,” Mitchell said. “We’ll work to get those things corrected.”
Secondary holding on
And what about Southern’s pass defense?
“I thought they did good,” Gilbert said.
Although Tennessee State didn’t have to throw much, it completed only 44 percent of its passes for 170 yards.
Gilbert lauded the play of freshman cornerback LaMarkius Pettaway, even though he dropped a potential interception on the right sideline — one that could’ve gone the other way for an SU touchdown. Instead, three plays later, Tennessee State scored to take a 20-0 lead.
Strong safety Demetric Rogers led the team with 10 tackles.
Free safety Levi Jackson had what might have been the hardest hit of the game, when he broke up a third-down pass to TSU receiver Devin Wilson on the first series of the game.
“I would give us a B or a C,” Pettaway said. “We played good. We just have to make more tackles and force more turnovers.”
SU had no takeaways in its first game.
This week, the Jaguars face A&M quarterback Deaunte Mason, who threw for 221 yards and four touchdowns in last year’s meeting, a 34-14 win.
Making the tackle
Defensive praise aside, coordinator O’Neill Gilbert said one thing is certain: His players have to do a better job of wrapping up ball carriers.
Missed tackles helped Tennessee State convert five of their first seven third-down situations.
It didn’t help, Gilbert said, that the linebackers routinely had to shed blocks in order to make tackles Saturday.
“We want our linebackers, in this system, to flow downhill and take shots at the guy that’s carrying the football — not have to take on a blocker, shed the blocker and take a shot. That’s kind of tough,” he said.
“Our defensive line — we play a lot of young guys up front. If they can understand the concepts of what we’re trying to get taught, then I think we’ll be a better team.”