NASHVILLE, Tenn. - This, obviously, was not how Dray Joseph wanted to play in his first season opener as Southern’s starting quarterback.
Sometimes, in the first half of the Jaguars’ unnerving 33-7 loss to Tennessee State at LP in the John Merritt Classic, the sophomore was on the money.
Sometimes he was off.
By the third quarter, he was on the sideline, watching freshman J.P. Douglas play.
“Tough game,” said Joseph, who completed 9 of 18 passes for 122 yards, no touchdowns and one interception. “I just misread a couple of reads.”
Joseph connected on his first three passes - short throws on the outside to wideouts Charles Hawkins and LaQuinton Evans.
But later, his third-down throw was high to Jared Green. It bounced skyward off of Green’s fingertips and into the hands of TSU safety Joseph Wylie. He returned it 59 yards for the game’s first touchdown, and the rout was on.
SU coach Stump Mitchell said when he pulled Joseph early in the third quarter, he intended for Joseph to simply watch a few series from the sideline and re-enter the game.
“I thought he was rushing some of his throws,” Mitchell said.
But Douglas fired a 66-yard touchdown to Jordan Bilbo on his first attempt. He finished the game, going 7-for-15 with 141 passing yards and an interception that was way off the mark.
“The plan was to just let me see what was going on. But I just think that after J.P. made a good throw, I guess coach (Mitchell) just figured, ?Let’s try to keep this tempo going and see what we can do, ‘“ Joseph said.
Asked afterward about his quarterback situation, Mitchell was emphatic.
“Dray’s my guy,” he said.
Joseph will likely start the Jaguars’ home opener Saturday against Alabama A&M.
Freshman, newcomer firsts
Among the Southern freshmen who played in their first college game Saturday: CB LaMarkius Pettaway, DE Jaylen Jordan, LB Larry Johnson, LB Daniel Brown, WR Jordan Bilbo, WR William Waddel, QB J.P. Douglas, RB Dallas Fort, DE Jeffrey Watkins, DE Arthur Miley, LG Zach Brown.
Pettaway, Brown and Jordan all started on defense. Bilbo, Waddel, Douglas, Watkins and Miley all played extensively in the second half.
Other transfers who played their first game for SU: Senior LB Jamie Payton, senior LB Jared Detrick, junior DB John Mack, junior WR/TE Mike Berry, sophomore WR Lee Doss and senior RB Terrell Alex.
Also, senior RB Jerry Joseph, who last played for Southern in 2008, got into the game during the first half.
Douglas, a true freshman from Roswell, Ga., fired a touchdown pass on his first college attempt - a 66-yard throw to Bilbo, who ran a deep out route and got behind the defense. It was also the first catch and the first touchdown for Bilbo, a 5-foot-10 redshirt freshman from Houston.
Middle linebacker Daniel Brown, another true freshman, blocked a 30-yard field-goal attempt in the third quarter.
Last year, in Mitchell’s first season at SU, the Jaguars led the nation with 104.1 penalty yards per game.
Saturday against Tennessee State, they drew 11 penalties for 95 yards.
Attendance was announced as 25,209 for Saturday’s game at LP Field. The last time Southern played Tennessee State in the John Merritt Classic, in 2008, attendance was listed as 28,830. The highest-attended John Merritt Classic was the inaugural game in 1999 between TSU and Alabama State. It drew 31,119.
To the Tennessee State offensive line, which blew open holes for its running backs and gave its quarterbacks just enough time to make timely conversions.