ATLANTA — The Southern football team might have suffered another crushing loss Saturday, blowing a second-half lead for the second consecutive week in a 38-33 loss to Florida A&M in the Georgia Dome.
But if anything positive came out of the collapse, it was running back Sylvester Nzekwe, who gave the Jaguars’ previously stagnant running game a boost.
Starting for the first time this season, the junior tailback had 42 yards and two touchdowns on 14 carries Saturday.
“I’m OK,” Nzekwe said. “I’m just still thinking about this loss.”
They were the first two rushing touchdowns of the season for Southern, which entered the game with 82 rushing yards on the season and a team average of 1.3 yards per carry.
Southern managed 52 yards on 19 attempts against FAMU — an improvement, albeit minimal, to 2.7 yards per carry.
Nzekwe also had 45 receiving yards on a team-high five catches.
“I did OK. I still left some yards on the field,” he said. “I’ll go back and watch film and correct a lot of errors.”
Wearing of the gold
Game organizers wanted Southern fans to wear gold and FAMU fans to wear orange. They decided to extend that request to the teams.
Southern’s gold jerseys were made for the 2006 Bayou Classic. The Jaguars had worn them once since then, when they dressed in gold jerseys and pants for their 2009 homecoming game against Fort Valley State.
In that game, and in Saturday’s game, the Bayou Classic logos were still on the jerseys.
Byron Williams’ third-quarter punt return for a touchdown was the second in the Stump Mitchell era. The first came in Mitchell’s first game, when Corey Cushingberry had a 64-yard punt return in the fourth quarter against Delaware State in Orlando, Fla., at the MEAC/SWAC Challenge. In that game, Cushingberry’s TD gave Southern its first lead of the second half, and the Jaguars won 37-27.
Williams’ touchdown gave Southern a 26-17 lead in the third quarter.
It was the second career special-teams touchdown for Williams, who returned a kickoff 91 yards in the fourth quarter of a Sept. 26, 2009, game against Alcorn State.
Personnel moves, strategy
On offense, freshman guards Zach Brown and Isaiah Webster made their first starts. Brown, a Houston native, replaced sophomore Aaron Hall in the lineup, and Webster, a new Orleans native, took over for redshirt freshman Dwayne Houston.
Southern opened in the I-formation and went to the no-huddle offense for the first time, scoring on four plays.
On defense, freshman ends Arthur Miley and Jeffrey Watkins, both of Mangham High, made their first college starts. Southern operated mostly in a nickel package, with junior D’Mekus Cook as the fifth defensive back.
Hawkins still out
Wide receiver Charles Hawkins, who suffered a concussion in last week’s game against Jackson State, traveled to Atlanta with the team and dressed out, but did not play.
Sophomore Lee Doss and redshirt freshman Jordan Bilbo took Hawkins’ place. Doss had four catches for 49 yards. Bilbo did not have a catch.
Hawkins was Southern’s second-leading receiver before his injury. He has nine receptions. for 187 yards and one TD.
• Southern got its first rushing touchdowns of the season when Nzekwe ran for a pair of 1-yard scores in the first half.
e_SBlt Kicker Matt Hill, a sophomore from Pensacola, Fla., via East Central (Miss.) Community College, took over place-kicking duties from Manuel Canto, who went 1-for-2 on field-goal attempts last week against Jackson State. Hill was 3-for-4 on extra points and did not attempt a field goal.
e_SBlt Junior running back Brandon Rice, who suffered a shoulder injury in training camp, made his first carry of the season during the second quarter. He lost 1 yard.
Linebacker Jamie Payton, cornerback Virgil Williams and center Lee Almanza were team captains for Southern. ... The Jaguars had won two of their past three games against FAMU, including the last neutral-site game in 2007, when SU grabbed a 33-27 win in Birmingham, Ala., at the MEAC/SWAC challenge. FAMU leads the series 34-25-1. ... SU’s last appearance in the Atlanta Football Classic was a 19-18 loss to Tennessee State in 1996.
Attendance Saturday was 59,373, the sixth-largest crowd in the 17-game history of the Atlanta Football Classic. The largest crowd was in 2004, when 67,712 watched FAMU defeat Tennessee State 21-15.
To the FAMU defense, which held Southern’s offense to 52 yards in the second half. The Jaguars offense did not score after halftime.