HOUSTON — Playing against the Southwestern Athletic Conference’s top rushing team, Southern knew Texas Southern would want to grind the ball and control the clock.
What the Jaguars didn’t know was the pounding wouldn’t come until after TSU rang up 29 points throwing the ball all over the field.
Riko Smalls passed for a career-high 365 yards and three touchdowns as the Tigers changed up their game plan to beat Southern 29-15 on Saturday night at Delmar Stadium.
TSU finished with 549 total yards against a surprised SU defense, giving the Tigers (4-5, 2-5) their first SWAC win in more than a month.
“People have been eight-man fronting us for the last four games, so we spread them out,” TSU coach Kevin Ramsey said. “Riko got hot, and we kept going four wide because it worked.”
Another reason the Tigers decided to pass was because of two injuries last week on the offensive line. Defensive lineman Chaston McFarland and Robert Boykins both filled in at right and left guard respectively.
“They weren’t familiar with the run blocking because they were playing on defense,” Ramsey said. “But what they do know is how to move their feet and keep people in front of them.”
Senior receivers Richard Samuel and Joe Anderson were the main beneficiaries of the new offensive strategy.
Samuel finished with seven catches for game-high 129 yards and a touchdown, while Anderson caught eight passes for 94 yards and a touchdown.
“We tried to keep it simple, disguise our formations and keep the ball on the edges,” Smalls said. “I know if I throw it up, our receivers are going to go get it. They made some spectacular plays tonight.”
Samuel scored on a 7-yard touchdown in the first quarter, while Artie Collins added a 46-yard bomb on the Tigers’ first drive of the second half.
“We knew they went man coverage across the board, and we have some pretty talented receivers,” Samuel said. “We haven’t thrown it that much all season, but we did tonight.”
Anderson’s 13-yard touchdown with 1:31 left in the third quarter was the final score of the game.
“We worked it like that in practice, and we knew we could do it,” Anderson said. “It was part of the game plan.
“On the last touchdown, I tried to draw the linebacker in and then use my speed to get to the end zone. It feels great.”
TSU came in averaging a SWAC-leading 178.9 rushing yards a game. But TSU running backs ran the ball only eight times in the game’s first 30 minutes.
Smalls finished the game as the leading rusher with 71 yards. He ran for 109, but lost 38 on sacks. He also ran for TSU’s second touchdown, a 3-yard dash up the middle.
“I think this was a good response for Riko after last week’s loss,” Ramsey said. “He was in a lot of pain this week, but he gutted out a great performance.”
TSU’s top two rushers on the season — Martin Gilbert and Marcus Wright — didn’t do much in the first three quarters, but were nice and fresh in the fourth to do what they do best: grind out the clock.
Gilbert finished with 57 yards on 12 carries, while Wright had 42 yards on eight carries.
In the end, Texas Southern went to its strength, grinding out the final 5:16. They ran out the final seconds at the Jaguars’ 2-yard line.
“It felt great to be able to go out there on senior night and our last game in Delmar Stadium and perform,” Anderson said. “We have a lot of love for this place, and we went out on top tonight.”