Woo-hoo! It’s almost here!
We’re one day away from the big showdown in the Georgia Dome between Southern (1-2) and Florida A&M (1-2), who square off at 2:30 p.m. (CST) in the Atlanta Football Classic. For most fans, it’s the most anticipated game on this year’s schedule — and for the team, obviously, this one is huge. A win would put Southern at 2-2 — and because next week’s game is at punchless Mississippi Valley State, the Jaguars would have a very realistic shot at going 3-2. That, of course, would be a rare bit of fortune for one Stump Mitchell.
But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. First things first. Saturday’s game is a biggie. Here are three things to watch for.
First: RUNNING ON EMPTY. To this point, Southern’s run game has been nonexistent at 1.3 yards per carry. The funny thing is, FAMU hasn’t been much better (1.5 yards per carry). Of course, those numbers are affected by sacks, which count as lost rushing yards. Also, FAMU was overmatched against South Florida last week in a game that wasn’t really a fair fight. Still, neither team has exactly torn it up on the ground. The Jaguars believe they can stop the run and make FAMU one-dimensional. They did so against Alabama A&M. They failed against Tennessee State. Against Jackson State, they struggled against the run, partly because the defense was on the field for so long. At any rate, Southern has to win the matchup at the line of scrimmage.
Second: WATCH OUT! FAMU coach Joe Taylor said he’d like to use his defensive speed to pressure Southern quarterback Dray Joseph, to make him uncomfortable and make decisions faster than he wants to. We’ve seen that Southern receivers LaQuinton Evans and Mike Berry can beat corners one-on-one; it’s just a matter of whether Joseph can get it to them on time and on the money. He did that very well against Alabama A&M; only so-so against Jackson State. So pay attention to the Rattlers’ blitz — and how well Joseph adjusts to it.
Third: ‘THIRD’ IS THE WORD. It’s all about third down. When an offense struggles on third down, it can’t extend possessions and milk the clock. That takes its toll on the defense, which has to play longer. Through three games, Southern’s defense has played 74 more snaps than its offense — in part because the offense has failed to convert third downs, but also because the SU defense has also struggled on third downs. Last week against Jackson State, the Southern offense was 3-for-16 on third downs, and the defense allowed 10 third-down conversions. Simply put, if the Jaguars do a better job on third down, they will defeat FAMU.