It didn’t wipe away the stain of a 29-15 loss against Texas Southern - but for the Southern football team, at least one bit of encouraging news emerged from the muck of Delmar Stadium.
Jaguars quarterback J.P. Douglas didn’t throw an interception. It was the first time an SU quarterback played an interception-free game since Dray Joseph did so in a four-point loss to Jackson State on Sept. 17.
Now, the troubling news. At 1 p.m. Saturday, when the Jaguars (3-6, 3-4 Southwestern Athletic Conference) face Alabama State (7-2, 7-1) in the Cramton Bowl, they’ll dive into the belly of a turnover-forcing beast.
Alabama State ranks second in the entire Football Championship Subdivision in takeaways with 32, and the Hornets’ plus-19 turnover margin is far and away the best in the SWAC (the second-best team, Alabama A&M, is at plus-9).
Free safety Kejuan Riley is tied for second in the nation with seven interceptions, and the Alabama State defense leads the nation with 20.
“When the ball is in the air, those guys feel - and rightfully so - that they have just as much right to that football as anyone. ... They do a tremendous job of stripping the ball,” SU coach Stump Mitchell said. “That’s what defense is all about.”
That’s also a worrisome sign for Southern, a team that’s had more giveaways (24) than takeaways (17).
This season, the Jaguars have thrown 12 interceptions, including three that were returned for touchdowns.
They have also struggled when playing from behind. Southern has been shut out in the fourth quarter of seven games.
“We have to protect the ball, because we have (turned it over), either by fumble or interception, so that will definitely be an emphasis,” Mitchell said. “It’s been an emphasis all season long. Hopefully, we’ll take heed and protect the ball and give ourselves a chance to win this football game.”
Protecting the quarterback
Of course, it’s easier to protect the ball if the offensive linemen protect their quarterback - something Mitchell said they didn’t do very well against Texas Southern.
After reviewing video, Mitchell said Douglas was pressured 17 times, in addition to the four sacks he took.
“I think our guys match up a little better against these guys, size-wise,” Mitchell said, referring to the ASU defensive line. “Now physically and mentally, we have to go up there, and we have to be mentally ready to play, because Alabama State - they know they have a lot riding on this game.
“And I think we have a lot riding on it as well.”
Alabama State can clinch the Eastern Division title with a win and an Alabama A&M loss.
A&M hosts Jackson State at 1 p.m. Saturday.
Barlow: WRs impressive
If Douglas gets enough time in the pockets, he can throw to some nice targets. That’s the way Alabama State coach Reggie Barlow feels, at least.
“I like those guys; they’re good,” Barlow said, referring to SU receivers LaQuinton Evans, Mike Berry and others.
Evans has 579 receiving yards. He ranks third in the SWAC with six touchdowns and 72.4 yards per game. Berry is Southern’s second-leading receiver with 421 yards.
“Evans, Berry and Jared Green and their entire group are very talented,” Barlow said. “I enjoy watching them play. This will be a big test for us.”
DBs Williams, Bell back?
During last week’s loss in Houston, cornerback Virgil Williams suffered a mild concussion and safety Mychal Bell suffered a hand injury, weakening an already thin secondary.
But Mitchell said he believes both players will return in time for Saturday’s game at Alabama State.
“I think they will play,” Mitchell said Wednesday. “Or better yet, I hope they play.”
Barlow might not. He called Williams “an explosive guy that can make a lot of plays and can hurt you in the passing game in the secondary.”
The secondary will also get a boost with the return of two starters, free safety Levi Jackson and cornerback LaMarkius Pettaway, who are coming off suspensions for fighting Oct. 15 at Arkansas-Pine Bluff.
Southern had discussed wearing all white last week at TSU but eventually settled on white jerseys and Columbia blue pants. The team will wear the same combination again Saturday in Montgomery. ... This is Southern’s first trip to the Cramton Bowl since 2004, when the Jaguars edged Tarvaris Jackson and ASU in a 42-41 thriller. Alabama State rebounded to beat Southern 40-35 in the SWAC Championship Game. Since then, the teams’ meetings have come in Mobile, Ala., and Baton Rouge.