After the Southern football team made easy work of Alcorn State on homecoming night on Oct. 29, Stump Mitchell said he believed his Jaguars had been good enough this season to win the black college national championship.
Everyone on The Bluff would feel better if they’d prove it.
The players would feel better. The students would feel better. The administration, the old-timers who watch practice every afternoon, the coaches themselves ... they’d all feel better.
Heck, even faculty members and support staff, who are now facing more furloughs and possible layoffs in the wake of Southern’s move to declare exigency ... even they might feel better if the football team found a way to start a winning streak.
Instead, Southern was left with more frustration and disappointment Saturday night, having watched the Jaguars’ sloppy 29-15 loss at Texas Southern.
Bear in mind that Southern has never won back-to-back games in Mitchell’s two seasons.
Bear in mind that in TSU, the Jaguars were facing a team that hadn’t won a Southwestern Athletic Conference game in more than a month. In fact, Texas Southern was coming off a bitter defeat at Mississippi Valley State — one that ended the Delta Devils’ 18-game losing streak.
But it wasn’t just the fact that Southern lost. Had the Jaguars played well and lost because of a strange bounce or a trick play, that would’ve been one thing.
It was the way Southern lost.
Yes, some of the old familiar problems were there. The offense was inconsistent, struggling with delay-of-game penalties, a hot-and-cold passing game and yet another punchless fourth quarter (Southern has scored zero fourth-quarter points in seven of its nine games this year, and Saturday, it gained 5 yards in the final 15 minutes).
But there were other problems, as well. Whereas the Jaguars have been suspect in run defense all season, their pass defense has been relatively solid, allowing three touchdowns in the first eight games.
With that in mind, virtually everyone expected TSU to rely on its rock-solid defense and punishing ground game.
Instead, quarterback Riko Smalls — a 48-percent passer this season — went bombs away on the Jaguars, who gave up season highs in passing yards (365) and total yards (549).
Every time the Tigers needed a really big play, Smalls made it, often throwing on the run or scrambling for first downs. It was a stunning development for a team that boasts a decent pass rush and solid secondary.
Halftime adjustments didn’t seem to work. TSU, leading 15-7 at the break, needed less than three minutes to score on its first possession of the third quarter.
And Southern’s running game, which had gained traction over the past month, was nonexistent Saturday. Sylvester Nzekwe had only six carries, and the team finished with 12 rushing yards.
In other words, the Jaguars’ loss in Houston wasn’t disappointing because it was a loss. It was disappointing because it exposed so many holes that weren’t apparent before.
After all, the team had shown a very real capability of playing well against good teams.
Way back on Sept. 10, the Jaguars ambushed Alabama A&M, notching a 21-6 win that looks better with every passing week. Having won seven straight games, Alabama A&M is poised to take over the No. 1 ranking in the Sheridan poll of black colleges.
A week after that game, SU was within two missed field goals of dropping Jackson State, a team that ascended to No. 1 in the Sheridan poll before it lost to Grambling on Saturday.
There were so many other near-misses, as well: the second-half meltdown against Florida A&M, the roller-coaster one-point loss at Arkansas-Pine Bluff, the maddening field-goal-at-the-end loss to Prairie View.
Those games are all gone, and now, the Jaguars are in grave danger of following last year’s 2-9 record with a 3-8 record.
Two games remain for Southern, starting with a trip to Alabama State — which, lest anyone forget, was No. 1 in the Sheridan poll until last month’s loss against Alabama A&M.
After that, it’s Grambling — and while the Bayou Classic is often a tossup, regardless of records, it doesn’t bode well for Southern that Doug Williams’ team is on a four-game winning streak.
As for the Jaguars, they’ve had potential — not to be black college national champions, but to be a very competitive team. A winning team.
The thing is, coaches don’t become legendary because their teams had potential, and great players are often forgotten when they play on losing teams.
Right now, Southern is resigned to settle for its second straight losing record. Right now, Southern is a losing team.
Folks on The Bluff are never content with that.