As rebuilding jobs go, Karl Morgan has one whale of a fixer-upper.
Imagine getting the keys to the Empire State Building, then realizing the whole thing needs a paint job and asbestos removal from top to bottom.
Shortly after Morgan took over the football program at Mississippi Valley State, he learned that one side of his stadium had to be demolished and rebuilt.
His team spent last year playing “home” games in a high school stadium, 45 miles away. Poorly funded and undermanned, Morgan’s team went 0-10.
This year, they’re 0-4.
But Morgan believes his Delta Devils, who host Southern in a refurbished Rice-Totten Stadium on Saturday, are making strides. He believes Valley is in step No. 2 of a four-step process.
“I think you lose big. Then you lose close. Then you win close. Then you win big,” Morgan said. “When you look at programs that turn the thing around, that’s the kind of pattern they go through.”
Maybe he’s right. And if he’s right, maybe Southern is close to being competitive in the Southwestern Athletic Conference again.
Anyone who grimaced through last year’s 2-9 debacle can remember a few close losses. More often, however, the Jaguars were blown out by teams like Alabama A&M (20 points), Grambling (21), Arkansas-Monticello (24) and Texas Southern (47).
Don’t be mistaken: So far, this season has been rough. Fans are rightfully frustrated at a 1-3 team that should probably be 3-1.
The past two weeks, SU blew leads in the fourth quarter against teams they should’ve soundly beaten.
Or, as second-year coach Stump Mitchell boldly put it: “I felt we were better than Jackson State. I felt we were better than FAMU. But unfortunately, we didn’t win those two games. And we have to understand and know how to close out opponents when you get a chance.”
So if there’s any silver lining, maybe it’s this: Perhaps Southern is approaching the next step. Perhaps the Jaguars are about to start winning close games.
They certainly need to.
And they need to start now.
If you don’t believe this game against a winless Valley team is huge, think about it this way: What will happen if Southern loses?
If that happens, the coaching staff might want to hide out for a week, maybe head for the hills. Of course, Baton Rouge doesn’t have hills. Unless traffic barrels and ant piles count.
So, yeah, it’s a big game.
“What we want to do is put ourselves in position, when we come home next week (to face Prairie View), to get to .500. That’s what we have to do,” said Mitchell, who noted that while he’s been at Southern, his team has never won back-to-back games.
“That’s not a lot of games to win in a row,” he said, “if you want to consider yourself halfway good.”
The first step, of course, is to win one game. The first step is to win Saturday.
The Jaguars have no other choice.