After rushing for 851 yards and nine touchdowns and earning Southwestern Athletic Conference freshman of the year honors, there were big expectations for Alabama A&M running back Jordan Bentley in 2017.
Big results have not yet materialized, though. Bentley was hampered by what Bulldogs coach James Spady called “a muscular injury around his ankle” and has not been able to get going.
Bentley has appeared in three games this season — including the past two — and has gained just 62 yards on 30 carries.
“All of our hopes were on Jordan,” Spady said. “Well, Jordan went down with an injury and is still not back to 100 percent.”
With Bentley grounded, Alabama A&M has had difficulty running the football.
The Bulldogs are averaging 85.8 yards rushing per game this season, which ranks eighth in the SWAC. They have only topped 90 yards as a team once in five games.
All of which is to say it will be interesting to see how Alabama A&M fares Saturday against Southern’s rush defense.
The Jaguars are one of two SWAC teams yielding more than 200 rushing yards per game this season.
The performance of his run defense has been a thorn in Southern coach Dawson Odums’ side, leading him to make personnel and scheme changes ahead of last week’s game against Fort Valley State.
The early returns were not entirely promising, as the Wildcats — themselves struggling to run the ball before playing Southern — turned 42 carries into 193 yards, with 94 coming on three explosive plays.
Bentley and the Alabama A&M rushing attack have had a tough start to the year, and so has the Southern rushing defense. One of those things likely will change Saturday.
“At the end of the day, I really think they want to run the football,” Odums said. “We must get better at stopping the run if we want to be successful.”
1: Big man shuffle
Eight players have started a game on Southern’s offensive line this season, with freshman Johnathan Bishop being the latest new starter (at left guard last week). This unit’s play is as critical as any to Southern’s offensive success, and it’s worth watching its development closely.
2: Strength vs. (potential) weakness
We still don’t know exactly what Southern has for a passing attack because of Austin Howard’s injuries. Through five games, Southern is averaging just 143.6 passing yards per game. Getting things going Saturday will be tough: Alabama A&M has allowed 208 combined passing yards in two SWAC games.
3: Get to know a freshman
Alabama A&M true freshman quarterback Aqueel Glass got off to a rough start, with his Bulldogs scoring seven combined points in their first three games, all against Football Bowl Subdivision teams. But he’s been phenomenal the past two weeks, completing 48 of 80 passes for 615 yards.
4: Seeking: Playmaker
Look for Southern to change things up offensively against Alabama A&M in an attempt to get its offense back to the explosive levels seen in recent seasons. It used this week as a sort of audition for young receivers in new roles. Could we also see cornerback Danny Johnson on offense? It’s possible.
NUMBERS WORTH KNOWING
4 — Southern enters Saturday’s game with a four-game winning streak against Alabama A&M
105-38 — The composite score of Southern’s last two wins against Alabama A&M
6— Sacks by the Alabama A&M defense against Arkansas-Pine Bluff last week