As well as Southern University’s defense has played this season - Stump Mitchell, the boss himself, has conceded that the defense has given SU a chance to win almost every game - the Jaguars do have a weakness.
They’re suspect against the run.
Mitchell knows it. Defensive coordinator O’Neill Gilbert knows it. They’ve lived through it. And Southern fans have watched it, sometimes with frustration.
When the Jaguars are forced to slow down a robust ground game, the results aren’t often pretty.
Tennessee State gained 342 rushing yards. Prairie View gained 161 rushing yards. Mississippi Valley State: 230. Arkansas-Pine Bluff: 298. You get the idea.
With that in mind, SU’s next game is perhaps more hazardous than most.
Southern (3-5, 3-3 Southwestern Athletic Conference) faces Texas Southern (3-5, 1-5) at 6 p.m. Saturday at Delmar Stadium in Houston - and if the home team can establish its potent rushing attack early, the Jaguars’ bus ride home to Baton Rouge won’t be much fun.
“They know. They look at the size of our guys on the depth chart. They know the guys that we’re playing aren’t that big,” Mitchell said.
“But our guys are quick. So if we can just penetrate and force their backs to go east and west, as opposed to north and south, we may have an opportunity to do some things. If they’re able to just run downhill, then they’re going to do what they’ve done all year, in terms of getting rushing yards.”
And TSU has gotten a lot of rushing yards.
Offensively, the Tigers are about as subtle as an upper cut: They want to pound the ground and play keep-away.
Though they haven’t won much lately - Texas Southern’s only victory in the past month was against Division II Central State - the Tigers have effectively pounded the ground, and they’ve effectively played keep-away.
Texas Southern leads the SWAC in rushing offense (178.9 yards per game) and time of possession (36:06 per game).
This season, that’s been a toxic combination for Southern.
The Jaguars have vastly improved on defense, they’re undersized and undermanned at the line of scrimmage. Last week, for example, SU’s starting defensive linemen averaged 261.3 pounds per player.
The line even shrinks a little when Arthur Miley and Jeffrey Watkins, two athletic freshmen from Mangham High School, come into the game (Miley weighs 221 pounds; Watkins is 240).
Meanwhile, the Tigers’ starting offensive linemen average 311 pounds. Their tackles, Ray Rodriguez and Kenneth Hall, both check in at 330 pounds.
“We’re going to have to do a great job of forcing our will on them,” Gilbert said. “We’re going to load the (tackling) box. There isn’t going to be a secret. We know they’re going to run the ball. So we’re going to load the box.”
They practically have no choice.
In addition to a beefy line, the Tigers have two of the SWAC’s top four rushers in Martin Gilbert (88.4 yards per game) and Marcus Wright (77.2).
Add it all up, and it’s a potential disaster in the making for Southern’s defense, which, to date, has played 112 more snaps than the offense.
Try though they do, the smaller Jaguars are often worn out by the fourth quarter.
That was evident against Tennessee State and UAPB, teams that established the run and kept the ball for more than 80 plays.
“If you keep us on the field (for only) 70 plays, I’ll knock another 110 yards off of that (rushing total), and we’ll be average again,” Gilbert said. “Too many plays. We’re not big enough nor strong enough to withstand all that. I don’t care who you are. ... We’ve got to get off the field.”
An honor for Douglas
Freshman quarterback J.P. Douglas was named the SWAC’s newcomer of the week Tuesday after his sparkling performance against Alcorn State.
Making his second college start, Douglas threw for 192 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions as SU took a three-touchdown lead in the first quarter, then cruised to a 30-14 win. Douglas also ran for a 37-yard touchdown.
It is the second weekly honor for an SU quarterback this season. Dray Joseph was the SWAC’s offensive player of the week after he threw for 308 yards and three TDs in a 21-6 win over Alabama A&M on Sept. 10.
“I’d like to see (Douglas) and Dray both have a little more excitement when they do some things, and expect to be successful,” Mitchell said. “Don’t expect failure; expect to be successful.”