Twice during the second half of Saturday’s 28-21 win over Mississippi Valley State, Southern coach Stump Mitchell was faced with this question. Both times, his team marched inside the Delta Devils’ 20-yard line but faced a fourth down.
Both times, Mitchell decided to go for it.
Both times, Southern got stuffed.
Midway through the third quarter, the Jaguars drove 65 yards and had fourth-and-3 at the Valley 17.
At first, they sent in place-kicker Matt Hill and lined up for what would’ve been a 34-yard field goal. Instead, Mitchell called a timeout, then brought the offense back onto the field.
The decision, Mitchell said, was backed partially by a gut feeling and partially with information.
Hill, a sophomore from Pensacola, Fla., is a former soccer player who’d never kicked in a football game before this season, when he transferred from East Central (Miss.) Community College.
He took over for Michael Canto on Sept. 24 against Florida A&M, hitting 3 of 4 extra-point attempts. Saturday would have marked Hill’s first field-goal attempt this season. And as Mitchell noted, he would have kicked into winds of 15-20 mph.
“Watching the guy in pregame, he wasn’t kicking field goals all that good,” Mitchell said.
The offense returned and tried to pass on fourth down, but J.P. Douglas’ throw was tipped by defensive end Javaris Fritz.
On Southern’s next possession, the offense drove to the Valley 16, where it faced fourth-and-2. This time, Mitchell never bothered with the field-goal unit. He called for an outside run with Jerry Joseph, who was dropped for a 1-yard loss.
Earlier, on Southern’s first possession of the game, the Jaguars had fourth-and-inches at their own 48. They tried a quarterback sneak, but Valley easily stopped Dray Joseph for a short loss.
The team was 0-for-3 on fourth down Saturday.
“Heck, I didn’t think they were going to stop us all the time on fourth down. They proved me wrong,” said Mitchell, who calls the offensive plays. “I tried running it inside, and they stopped me. I tried running it outside, and they stopped me. In that area, they beat me. That’s all I can say.”
Numbers to know
170. Southern’s defense had played 170 consecutive snaps without making a sack until the first quarter Saturday game, when Jeffrey Watkins dropped Marvin Pittman for an 8-yard loss. SU finished with three sacks and four hurries.
41. Southern had 41 rushing attempts Saturday, its most in 16 games under Mitchell.
14. Southern’s offense was on the field for 14 more plays than its defense Saturday. It was the first time this season that the defense was not on the field for longer than the offense. Overall, SU’s defense has played 78 more snaps in five games.
“The first 14 points (Valley) got was an interception by the offense, and then we fumbled the ball deep in their territory and they went in and scored. But I thought the defense played pretty good. We’ve got a lot of young guys playing, but those guys are coming through, for the most part.”
“We’re improving as a defense. We’re learning, week by week, how to finish a game, and we always know the game is not over. We’ve been losing games in the fourth quarter with five minutes to go. We just knew we had to finish the game.”
Southern defensive tackle
Southern (2-3, 2-1 Southwestern Athletic Conference) hosts Prairie View (3-2, 3-1) at 6 p.m. Saturday at A.W. Mumford Stadium.
The Panthers, coming off a 31-23 win over Grambling in Dallas, are atop the Western Division, ahead of SU and Arkansas-Pine Bluff by a half-game. Since an ugly 63-14 loss to Bethune-Cookman, in the season opener, Prairie View has won three of its past four games.