Southern University’s defense was missing three key players Saturday night against Southwest Athletic Conference rival Alcorn State, but the Jaguars turned in an effort that was anything but short-handed.
Behind Southern’s best defensive performance of the Stump Mitchell era, the Jaguars dominated Alcorn’s offense on the way to a 30-14 homecoming win at A.W. Mumford Stadium.
Southern held Alcorn to 219 total yards, well below its 315-yard average. Most importantly, Southern’s defense pitched a “shutout” as both Alcorn touchdowns came off of special teams miscues.
“The defense played well,” Mitchell said. “They didn’t give up any points, so that’s definitely a bright spot. I don’t think (Alcorn State) had too many big plays against us.”
The Jaguars played the game without starting linebacker Jamie Payton, starting cornerback LaMarkius Pettaway, and key reserve linebacker Anthony Balancier, all serving suspensions as part of disciplinary action from last week’s fight at Arkansas-Pine Bluff.
The defense never missed a beat as reserve linebacker Larry Johnson made the most of his first start. Johnson led Southern with nine tackles, including six solo.
“We came out and played hard,” said Johnson. “Everybody knew they had to step up. Different people had to step into different roles, and we jelled together as a family.”
Southern began the contest with scores on its first three possessions. Equally important was the Jaguars defense, which forced Alcorn into three-and-outs on each of its first three series.
Johnson had key stops on the first two Alcorn possessions as Southern went on to force six total three-and-outs for the game.
“I was excited to see Larry Johnson play like I told you he would,” Mitchell said. “He did not disappoint us, his high school, his family or Baton Rouge. He was good for us tonight, and he’ll get another opportunity to play next week.”
Alcorn put together only one sustained first-half drive, a 12-play series that took the Braves to the SU 10. A holding penalty pushed ASU back, and the Braves’ Auturo Tomaya missed a 32-yard field goal.
“The defense has always been solid,” said Southern running back Sylvester Nzekwe, who ran for 134 yards and a touchdown. “A lot of times they don’t get a lot of credit. It just feels good knowing we’ve got a strong defense behind us.”
D’Mekus Cook helped snuff out Alcorn drives as the second half began.
The Braves moved into Southern territory early in the third quarter, but Cook picked off Alcorn’s Darius Smith at the SU 41 to end the threat.
Alcorn picked up a first down, and was near midfield on its next possession. Cook’s pass breakup on third-and-10 forced one of seven Alcorn punts.
“If we don’t play ourselves as well as our opponents, then we stand a chance of winning big. That’s the bottom line,” Mitchell said.
With Southern’s defense clamping down on the Alcorn offense, the Braves turned to special teams for their two scores.
It wasn’t enough to take the shine off of a sterling defensive performance.
“Next week, we’ve got to repeat the cycle,” Johnson said. “Everybody has to come to practice ready to work, know your assignments and stay together as a family.”