At one point during his weekly press conference, Southern football coach Stump Mitchell was as blunt and forceful as a hammer to the head.
His team, he said, was better than Florida A&M. But his team made too many mistakes and let FAMU hang around for too long.
So instead of being 2-2, the Jaguars are 1-3. Now they prepare for a road game against Mississippi Valley State at 2 p.m. Saturday.
Other remarks from Mitchell:
“Last weekend’s game in Atlanta was a very festive weekend. Fans won the battle of the fans. The band won the battle of the bands. Unfortunately, we didn’t win the football game. But it was a great occasion. It was a great opportunity for meet a young man by the name of Mr. Sheldon Early, who’s a Southern alum. He’s going to be spearheading a charge for all fraternity brothers and sorority sisters to, when they come to homecoming, to make a donation of $100 each toward funding the turf field that we’re trying to get, which will be great for all sports, and also, Southern University as well.”
What does your team have to do in order to close out some of these games?
“Well, we have to manage the game. Offensively, those guys that are entrusted with the football, they have to protect the football. We cannot give the ball away.”
“In the Jackson State game, we had seven dropped passes, which (were) huge. Those passes caused us to not be so good in third-down situations, and also prevented us from scoring in the red zone. We had a fumble against Jackson State on the 2-yard line. We ended up losing that game, I think, by four points.
“Then, in the Atlanta game, we just didn’t manage the ballgame. We got ahead by 16 points, and we just lost all discipline in just the way we did things. We blocked a punt, and we should not have tried to field the punt (because) it went beyond the line of scrimmage. And as a result, we got the ball back. We stopped them and had them in third-and-long situations, and we got a personal foul, which was terrible. We were in control of the game at that particular point in time. And we gave them life.”
“Offensively, we only had the bad the ball for a minute maybe 30 or 40 seconds in the third quarter. But it’s going to be that way when you’re out there defensively. You punt and you get a punt return for a touchdown (by Byron Williams). You go back, defensively and you get an interception for a touchdown (by Demetric Rogers). You go back out there defensively. You punt, and we blocked the punt, and muff the punt. They get the ball. So that’s how that was in that third quarter. In the fourth quarter, we started every drive with a run. Then we had to go to the pass. In the fourth quarter, we had seven runs for 10 yards. We had nine passes. Dray (Joseph) was 6-of-9, and he had two interceptions in that last period — the last one on the fourth-and-5.”
“We just lost all control of everything in the latter part of the third quarter and in the fourth quarter.”
On the quarterback rotation, and his desire to play freshman J.P. Douglas:
“Well, I think it’s beneficial to give J.P. some playing time, so you don’t have a situation where you’re starting fresh.”
“I didn’t think J.P. was able, in my opinion, to handle playing in the Jackson State game. I just didn’t see it in his eyes. Against FAMU, with the game being in Atlanta, he was a different kid. Under center, he felt great. Being in the dome, he felt great. Having his family and all his friends there at the game. So he played petty decent in the Atlanta game.”
“But I think both of those guys will get playing time. Dray is the guy. Dray made some fabulous plays. He really did.”
“In the fourth quarter, I really wish he would’ve just thrown that ball away (instead of passing to Mike Berry, who tipped the ball, which was intercepted by FAMU linebacker John Williams). He just forced it in to a guy who ran a bad route and tried to make something out of nothing. Because at that point in time, we were still ahead by nine points. We tried to force something in there, and it turned out bad.”
Do you and your guys feel a sense of frustration after these past two losses?
“We feel a sense of letting the Jaguar Nation down. We feel a sense of letting Southern University down. And we feel the sense of letting each other down. Because we know we were picked to go 1-3, and we allowed that to happen. And we didn’t have to have that happen.”
“Those games did not have to be that close. Guys that are entrusted with the ball in their hands, offensively, have to control the ball. And we don’t need any one person on this football team to win this football game for us. We just need the guys have to understand. That’s what the quarterbacks have to understand. That’s what the receivers and backs have to understand. For the most part, we were not going to put our corners in too bad of a situation, playing a whole lot of one-on-one. They’re usually, for the most part, are going to have safety help. So we’re trying to feed off one another, and as a result, some of us stepped out of line, and that caused us to lose these last couple ballgames.”
“A bunch of dropped passes, and we can’t have that. I mean, guys that didn’t play as well as they’ve played in the past — we have to be able to depend on those guys. And when you’re not carrying your share of the load, that makes it tough. But we also know, some of the guys that did those things are not the players that they’re going to be the remainder of the year, or that they had been three games prior to that game.”
LaQuinton Evans caught that first pass, then was pretty quiet the rest of the game. Was it something the corners were doing, or was he not getting the reads? What happened there?
“No. It was frustrating to me as well, because LaQuinton should’ve caught a few more balls. He was open on a few pass patterns, and he was a primary receiver on a few pass patterns, and we didn’t get him the ball. That was frustrating because … it’s my job, as a coach, to be able to get the ball to my football player. But all I do is call the plays. I don’t execute them. It was frustrating, because even when the game got tight, I wanted to get the ball to LaQuinton, because I know he was frustrated. That was all I needed him to be — frustrated, with the ball in his hands. They would’ve been in trouble. But I couldn’t get it to him.”
Can you tell us about the running game? Sylvester Nzekwe had 42 yards; I’m sure you’d like to see double that.
“That would’ve been nice. That was the plan, to come back out in the third quarter. The first time we got the ball, we gave it to Sylvester and he gave us 11 yards — and we get a holding penalty. So now we come back, and it’s first-and-20. J.P. Douglas makes a great throw to get half of it back, and we drop the ball. That’s what frustrated me in that game. We allowed a team that we were better than to hang around, and we lost the game.”
What do you need to do to get this running game going? You guys, obviously, are last in the conference.
“I’m not worrying about that. I mean, we are who we are. We’re trying to improve against FAMU, and hopefully we’ll be able to come out and do it this week. Had the third quarter not gone the way it went, we would’ve been over 100 yards. Sylvester would’ve been over 100 yards. I was given the opportunities to carry the ball, and the offensive line was giving him some running room.”
“Defense — they didn’t force them to punt because they got an interception for a touchdown. Which one do you want? They punted and we blocked the punt. Maybe we shouldn’t have gone for the block because we took away the opportunity for Byron Williams to return another one for a touchdown. But we get the block, and we’re in great field position. But now, we touch a ball that went beyond the line of scrimmage. And we didn’t recover it. We should’ve just gotten out of the way. But we didn’t.”
Can you expand on Byron? Obviously, his punt return was a huge play. Do you expect him to produce those types of plays every week?
“Hopefully. After that, they didn’t kick it to him. There’s no question that Byron is a talented young man. He has not learned the offense as of yet, and it’s not that difficult, but I know he sees himself as a kickoff returner and a punt returner, and he did a fabulous job of doing that.”
What have you seen from Valley so far?
“They’ve played some good games. They’ve lost some games because they turned the ball over, unfortunately. They turned the ball over a lot. And hopefully, we can get some of those turnovers, and we can capitalize. But they’re big. They’re playing a lot better than they did last year. They scored 34 points and they lost (to Prairie View, 43-34).”
“Their defense is big. They’re at home, and they’re looking for their first win.”
“It’s a big conference game. We want to stay where we’re at in the conference. We don’t want to lose a game. We’ve got to go out and work hard today, and I think the guys will.”
Every game is a big game. But how important is this one?
“It’s huge. It’s a huge game. It’s a conference game. On our side, we can be 2-1. What we want to do is put ourselves in position, when we come home next week, to be able to get to .500. That’s what we have to do. And we have not won, since I’ve been here, two games in a row. That’s not a lot of games to win in a row, if you want to consider yourself halfway good.”
“But to do that, you can’t drop balls. You can’t have penalties. Those are some of the things that we’ve had the last two weeks against Jackson State, who was supposed to be the best team in the conference. Of course, they were beaten by (Alabama State). And then FAMU, who they had rated in the top 10, I think. We should’ve won that game, as well. We just have to take care of our own business and not worry about anything else.”
Is this maybe a good week for your offense to score a load of points?
“Well, I thought last week was an opportunity for us to score over 40 points. I thought the week before, against Jackson State, was an opportunity for us to score points. And those weeks were. But we did not protect the football. And that’s what we have to do. We have to hold on to the ball. We have to catch passes. We’ve had entirely too many dropped passes the last couple of weeks. We’re too talented for that, and we have to do better.”
As well as your defense has played, your pass rush wasn’t quite what it was maybe a couple weeks ago. Is there anything you can do in order to get it jump-started?
“Well, I guess, we tried some stunts and some various things, but the past couple weeks, we’ve played some pretty decent quarterbacks, and we’ve had some big offensive linemen to go against, and our guys are not that big. We’re getting more from the two freshmen, in terms of pressure, than we are from the veteran guys, and I think that’s because the freshmen are faster. They have better pass-rush technique thus far.”
“But hopefully we’ll be able to find some ways to put some pressure on the quarterback. … So we feel pretty good.”
On what the team learned from their preseason visit to Saints camp:
“They understood that it’s not the size of the dog in the fight, but the size of the fight in the dog. Chase Daniel and Drew Brees — those guys aren’t big, stature-wise. But man, do they stand tall, in terms of their faith and their belief in their ability.”
Charles Hawkins dressed out Saturday, but did not play. Will he be available this week?
“He was available last weekend. I just didn’t play him, for the simple fact that you’re talking about a guy that really took a beating in the Tennessee State game. He really took a beating. And then you’re talking about a young man that got a concussion in the Jackson State game. They cleared him to play, but I wasn’t going to clear him to play, because Hawkins is a great individual. I don’t want his career to end because he got a couple concussions. That’s not going to be the case.
“I’m not concerned this week about him, because they cleared him last week. So he’ll be playing this week.”
He’ll be back in the starter’s role?
“Yes, he will be.”
What about left tackle Chris Browne (ankle) and Zach Brown (ankle)?
“We will probably have Chris Browne. We probably will not have Zach Brown. Probably not for a week or two.”
How much does the shuffling of the line affect the offense?
“No. I’ll let them worry about it.”