NASHVILLE, Tenn. - Southern’s defense was the elixir for many of the problems that plagued Tennessee State’s offense during the second half of last season.
TSU struggled after losing starting running back Preston Brown (torn ACL) at midseason last year and lost its last six games.
The ground game got back into gear Saturday night on the way to a 33-7 victory over the Jaguars.
TSU rushed for a whopping 342 yards and scored two of its first three TDs rushing.
“We just really stuck with our game plan,” said TSU running back Trabis Ward. “That was to come off the ball fast, show some toughness and finish. Everybody on this team knew we had to have toughness and everybody made a promise early in the week to do their job and that’s what it took for the running game to have the kind of success we had.”
Ward, a sophomore who was academically ineligible last year, rushed for 141 yards on 18 carries and scored one TD.
Dante’ Thomas, who replaced Brown as TSU’s starting running back last year, added 87 yards rushing on 13 carries and scored a TD.
That so many of TSU’s 512 yards of total offense came on the ground wasn’t nearly as important to Tigers coach Rod Reed as was the way the running back finished drives.
“One of the things we worked on in camp just about every day was our red zone offense ? and I was really happy to see us take some practice stuff over to the field,” Reed said. “All of our running backs ran the ball well. It was a gutty performance by those guys.”
The Tigers built so much of a cushion that Reed looked at several other backs who have seen little or not playing time because they were buried on the depth chart.
Ryan Berry, a former walk-on, entered in the first half and finished with 44 yards on four carries.
Redshirt freshman quarterback Michael German also saw his first action for TSU. He came in on the Tigers’ fourth possession and engineered a 12-play, 80-yard scoring drive that put TSU up 20-0.
TSU scored five of the six times it got in the red zone (20 yards from the goal line).
TSU’s offense picked up 29 first downs while Southern had 12. Southern, which came into the game determined to run the ball better than last year, had just 37 rushing yards on 23 carries.
“They came out wanting to throw those little hitch passes so they could get us out of the box and keep us spread out,” said TSU linebacker Rico Council, who led TSU with nine tackles including two sacks and had an interception. “But we didn’t fall for that. We stuck to our game plan and kept stuffing their run.”