Good, bad and odd moments from a lifeless Bayou Classic

If you’re a Southern football fan (why else would you be here?), and you had the misfortune of being in New Orleans for the Bayou Classic, well, you have our condolences.

You saw for yourself how badly Grambling manhandled Southern at the line of scrimmage in a 36-12 win, giving the Tigers their fourth straight win over SU.

You saw, and felt, how lifeless it was inside the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, where the smallest crowd in Bayou Classic history (40,715) witnessed the severe beating.

You saw the Jaguars save their worst performance of the season for the biggest game of the season.

If you’re a Southern fan and you weren’t in New Orleans for the Classic, well, look on the bright side: At least you didn’t spend a lot of money on a gruesome game.

Undoubtedly, second-year coach Stump Mitchell will take quite a bit of heat for Saturday’s performance. It doesn’t do much good to re-tell an oft-told story, but suffice it to say, he wasn’t exactly a unanimous choice to replace Pete Richardson two years ago. Now — even after the Jaguars showed obvious improvement this season, going 4-7 with a few more victories that were easily within reach — Mitchell and his team have to sit on this clunker of a loss for the entire offseason.

Such is life.

In the coming months, we’ll discuss whether Mitchell’s program is on the right track or not. At this point, you can make a decent case either way. (No, seriously.)

For now, let’s take a longer look at how Grambling turned a four-point halftime lead into a 24-point laugher.

The good, bad and odd moments from the 38th (and possibly dullest) Bayou Classic:

—Jamie Payton. Several weeks ago, Dutchtown High coach Benny Saia said he was blown away that no Louisiana college program that enough of Payton to give the standout linebacker a scholarship. This season, Southern fans found out that Saia was right. Payton, who transferred to SU after three years at NAIA Lambuth, finished the Bayou Classic with a game-high 15 tackles. He was everywhere for Southern in the second and third quarters. He earned team MVP honors. And the key word there is earned. It’s a shame the Jaguars don’t have him for one more year.

—The defense forced five turnovers. Typically, that kind of effort leads to a win, no matter how many yards your defense gives up. This, of course, was not a typical game.

—Southern scored when it had a short field. Twice, the Jaguars took over inside the Grambling 30, thanks to a muffed punt and a blown call by the officials (they ruled that Kenneth Batiste fumbled when he was clearly down). Both times, SU scored quickly.

How much time do you have?
—The Southern offense never got going. Period. Yes, the offense scored on two short drives, but more often, it did absolutely nothing, even with great field position. The offensive line was simply overmatched. It failed to establish the run, and it failed to protect quarterbacks J.P. Douglas and Dray Joseph. SU managed only 174 yards of offense, and many of those yards came after the game was out of hand.

—No key conversions. On third and fourth downs, Southern was 2-for-13. Grambling was 7-for-15. In other words, where the Jaguars failed to keep drives alive, the Tigers largely did what they had to. Grambling scored touchdowns after converting several third-and-long situations, and that, among many other things, made a whale of a difference.

—No life. No energy. Or no belief. Perhaps this is a chicken-or-the-egg debate. Maybe if Southern’s offense had moved the ball early on, players would’ve been more energized on the sideline. Or maybe if players had been more energized, they might’ve had a positive effect on the offense. At any rate, Southern seemed to suffer from a stunning lack of emotion — especially when the going got rough. This wasn’t true of every player (see, for example, Jamie Payton). But it was the case with too many players.

—Grambling kicker Zoltan Riazzo. He made 2 of 3 field goals, including one from 53 yards away — an impressive first-quarter boot that was 1 yard short of the school record. We mention Riazzo for two reasons: 1) because it highlights just what a difference it makes to have a reliable kicking game, which, sadly, Southern never had this season, and 2) Zoltan Riazzo’s name gives us an excuse to use this link.

That’s all for now, ladies and gents. This is, undoubtedly, not the way Southern fans and alumni wanted their football season to end. But it’s done now. The Jaguars head into a crucial offseason, attempting to recruit and train their way toward the top of the Southwestern Athletic Conference.

In the coming months, we’ll see how it all plays out.

Grambling pounds Southern, cruises to victory at Classic

NEW ORLEANS — Southern’s football season has ended, much in the same way it began: with a lopsided loss.

In fact, this year’s Bayou Classic turned out the same way the previous three ended: with a lopsided loss.

Inside the Mercedes-Benz Superdome on Saturday afternoon, before a crowd of 40,175 — the smallest in the Classic’s 38-year history — Grambling dominated the second half and easily pulled away for a 36-12 victory, clinching a berth in next month’s Southwestern Athletic Conference Championship Game.

The Tigers (7-4, 6-3), who will face Alabama A&M in Birmingham, Ala., on Dec. 10, defeated Southern (4-7, 4-5) for the fourth straight time, something it hadn’t done since 1983-86.

The Jaguars missed their chance to finish in a four-way tie atop the Western Division.

The Bayou Classic, in fact, marked their worst loss since Sept. 3, when Tennessee State dropped them 33-7 in the season opener at LP Field.

On Saturday, Grambling quarterback D.J. Williams — yes, he is Doug’s son — completed 11 of 17 passes for 174 yards with one interception. He threw three touchdowns to Mario Louis.

Southern, meanwhile, managed only 174 yards against a fierce Grambling defense, which had seven sacks and nine tackles for loss.

Starting quarterback J.P. Douglas suffered a concussion in the second quarter. He was replaced by Dray Joseph, who threw for 138 yards and a touchdown.

SU had minus-31 rushing yards.

We’ll be back Sunday night with a more detailed breakdown of this blowout.

Until then, feel free to mope.

Southern. Grambling. The Bayou Classic. Follow us on Twitter

Less than 48 hours before the final college football game he’d ever play, Southern safety Demetric Rogers reflected on his career, thinking about all the great plays, peak moments and painful losses he’d experienced since he first pulled on a blue and gold uniform.

“In my mind, I know it’s coming to an end, but I don’t want it to come to an end,” he said. “I don’t think the reality has really hit me — that this is going to be it.”

This is certainly it.

It’s not just any game. It’s not just the final game. It’s the most important game of the season — the most important game of any season.

It’s the Bayou Classic.

At 1:30 p.m. Saturday inside the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, the Jaguars (4-6, 4-4 Southwestern Athletic Conference) square off against archrival Grambling (6-4, 5-3) in the 38th Bayou Classic.

So let’s get it on. If you’re not in the stands — heck, even if you are in the stands — you should follow for in-game updates and commentary.

For both teams, this is, of course, unlike any other game. Grambling and Southern are very similar teams this season — they’ve both lost games they probably should’ve won, but they’ve both played better toward the end of the schedule. Plus, as we all know, when Grambling and Southern get it on, teams who look average all year suddenly look like the ’96 Packers. It should be a close, close game.

With that, a few things to chew on:

  • Third downs are key. Looking for a reason Southern lost four games by fewer than six points this year? Consider this: In the fourth quarter, opponents have converted 45 percent of their third downs. That’s astonishingly high, and a big reason why the SU defense has played 133 more snaps than its offense. If the Jaguars can find a way to get off the field, they’ll give themselves a chance to win at the end.
  • Turnovers, turnovers, turnovers. Southern has a minus-6 turnover margin this season. Grambling is at minus-11. We mentioned this in today’s print version of The Advocate, but in games when the Jaguars are even, plus-1 or better in the turnover department, they’re 3-2. In games when they lost the turnover battle, they’re 1-4. In other words, Southern’s odds of winning greatly decrease when the offense gets careless with the football. The same is true for Grambling. Stay ahead in the turnover category, and you’ll probably stay ahead on the scoreboard.
  • Don’t overlook special teams. Grambling has a decisive edge with its field-goal and PAT units — and if you’ve watched Southern at any point this season, you know the Jaguars’ kicking game is shaky at best (22 of 28 on extra points; 5 of 10 on field goals). On the other hand, Southern has been very effective on kickoff and punt returns. SU needs a big special-teams play to gain momentum — or to keep it in their favor. And if this game is still close in the fourth quarter, the Jaguar Nation has to be a little nervous. Southern has blown too many fourth-quarter leads this season. What’s more, it can’t place much trust in a place-kicker to win the Bayou Classic for them in the clutch.

So here we go.

Again, for in-game updates and commentary, follow It’s a lovely day in New Orleans.

Let’s get it on.

Turkey Day with the Jaguars

No lazybones allowed. No mid-afternoon naps. No long holiday weekends.

For the Southern Jaguars, there was plenty of football on Thanksgiving. But it had nothing to do with the NFL games.

Thanksgiving is obviously different for the Jaguars. As usual, while everyone else is concerned with the Cowboys, the Lions and the leftovers, SU was waist-deep in preparations for the Bayou Classic, which kicks off at 1:30 p.m. Saturday in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.

The football team practiced at 8 a.m. Thursday inside A.W. Mumford Stadium, then convened afterward for a giant Thanksgiving breakfast/brunch dinner nearby. The meal was prepared by a small booster group nicknamed “Nation of Dominance,” spearheaded by longtime fan Chuckie Wells and others. A local grocery store donated 17 turkeys to the group, which promptly cooked the birds and served them up to players and coaches.

Afterward, some players and coaches paid it forward. They headed to the Baton Rouge River Center to assist Holiday Helpers Inc. in serving meals.

The football team planned to leave Friday morning for New Orleans, where it will stay overnight in advance of the big game against Grambling.

Notes, numbers and people to remember. Bayou Classic week is upon us

Here at the Jaguar Nation blog, when it’s a game week and we make a midweek entry such as this, we start off with something halfway amusing. Or colorful. Or odd.

Stuff like that.

Then, we get into things like notes, quotes, numbers and other doodads.

But this is Bayou Classic week. In so many ways, it’s bigger than football. It is, of course, an event. And this year’s event will be a little different.

Yes, Southern has a shot to win back-to-back games for the first time in the Stump Mitchell era. Yes, Mitchell himself is looking for his first Classic victory. The game is marked by Doug Williams’ return — and as Southern fans are all too happy to remind us, Williams was 1-5 in the Bayou Classic during his first coaching stint.

But this year will be different for a few other, more poignant reasons.

It’s worth noting that this will be the first Bayou Classic in a long, long, long time without some Southern fixtures.

Strength-and-conditioning coach Thomas “Zeus” Hall left for a similar job at Alcorn State, but died suddenly in a car crash early Oct. 16.

Longtime trainer Carl “Doc” Williams re-retired after two more years on the job. His right-hand man, John Ned, died of cancer in December.

Longtime volunteer Michael “Sweet” Haynes died in August.

Longtime sports information director Kevin Manns left for a similar post at Winston-Salem State.

Also, finally, SU graduate and Grambling assistant SID Roderick Mosley died in September of a heart attack.

Hopefully, I haven’t forgotten anyone. You’ll all be missed, gentlemen.

Anyway, enough with the somber tone. In true New Orleans fashion, we’ll remember … and then we’ll celebrate.

A few things to note as the Jaguars (4-6, 3-4 Southwestern Athletic Conference) get ready to face the Tigers (6-4, 5-3) at 1 p.m. Saturday in the Superdome:

  • Grambling leads the Bayou Classic 19-18.
  • Attendance at the Classic has dwindled in the past half-decade or so, something we’ve touched on already.
  • Then-Grambling coach Rod Broadway has a rude introduction to the Bayou Classic in 2007, losing 22-13. After that, however, his Tigers won three straight: 29-14 in 2008; 31-13 in 2009; and 38-17 last season.
  • Broadway bailed for North Carolina A&T during the offseason (his Aggies finished 5-6). That, of course, led to Doug Williams’ return. Although Williams won three straight SWAC titles during his first coaching stint from 2000-02, he finished only 1-5 in the Bayou Classic against Pete Richardson.
  • If Southern wins this Bayou Classic, four teams — SU, Grambling, Prairie View and Arkansas-Pine Bluff — will finish in a tie for first place in the Western Division. For the record, if that happens, UAPB will go to the conference championship game on Dec. 10.
  • If Grambling wins, Grambling clinches the Western Division title, pure and simple.
  • Finally, something to watch for if Saturday’s game is nip-and-tuck: Grambling kicker Zoltan Riazzo has made 27 of 28 extra-point attempts and 5 of 8 field-goal attempts. Southern kickers Manuel Canto and Matt Hill have combined to make 22 of 28 extra-point attempts and 5 of 10 field-goal attempts.
  • Southern leads the SWAC in kickoff returns, averaging 22.8 yards per attempt. Grambling leads the SWAC in punt returns at 16.3 yards per attempt.
  • Southern ranks fifth in the SWAC in third-down conversions (33 percent). Grambling ranks eighth (31 percent).
  • Southern ranks seventh in the SWAC in turnover margin (minus-6). Grambling ranks ninth (minus-11).

That is all for now. Good day, folks. See you in New Orleans, and soon.

Stop … chatter time. Join our online chat at 1 p.m. Wednesday

Hey … have you heard the news? Southern won last week!

Hey … have you heard the other news? The Bayou Classic is next week!

Those topics, and many others, are all in play as we hold our second-to-last online chat of football season. Join us at 1 p.m. Wednesday on the Jaguar Nation blog for the time of your life.

Click on the chat box, type in a question and fire away.

Where else would you rather be?

Notes, quotes and doodads from around SWAC Land

There’s a mess in the works at Alcorn State. There’s a big game in the making at Prairie View. Grambling has won five straight games heading into the Bayou Classic. And for poor Mississippi Valley, the team that can’t catch a break, the season is over.

One among many notes, quotes and doodads as we take a trip throughout the SWAC:

ALCORN STATE: It’s getting testy in at Alcorn State. Earlier this month, a group of alumni wrote a letter asking for donations that could go toward a firing and buyout of first-year coach Melvin Spears. This week, school president Christopher Brown told the Clarion-Ledger that Spears has a “50-50” chance of being back next year. Asked about his status at Alcorn, Spears replied: “Rome wasn’t built in a day, and if you look around the country, even some of the best coaches … didn’t come in and all of a sudden end up in a championship game. But I think we’re working toward what we’re doing, and it’s just a matter of time before we’ll be there.” Ross Dellenger of the Clarion-Ledger has done a fine job of breaking down the soap opera.

ALABAMA A&M: Alabama A&M will avoid the long, winding 16-hour bus trip from Normal, Ala., to Prairie View this week, Jones said. Instead, the Bulldogs will fly to Texas. Anthony Jones said that after the team’s last trip to Texas, the A&M administration promised it would raise the money to fly the team to Prairie View. Instead of leaving Thursday and missing two days of classes, the team will leave Friday for a two-hour flight. Prairie View and Alabama A&M meet with plenty on the line. The winner is assured of a spot in the SWAC Championship Game.

TEXAS SOUTHERN: Even though last year’s SWAC champion, Texas Southern, has a very real chance to finish first in the league in rushing defense, total defense and rushing offense, the Tigers are assured of a last-place finish in the Western Division. Can they knock Arkansas-Pine Bluff out of the race? Kevin Ramsey hopes so, but said that isn’t TSU’s primary mission in the season finale. “We look to just get the win,” he said. “Our deal is being the best we can be with each of our opponents.”

MISSISSIPPI VALLEY STATE: Mississippi Valley State has finished its season at 1-10, and coach Karl Morgan said he knows at least one area at which the Devils must improve. “I think we have to find a quarterback that’s accurate,” Morgan said. Garrick Jones and Marvin Pittman split time at quarterback, completing 47 percent of their passes.

GRAMBLING: Doug Williams had more praise for star-out-of-nowhere receiver Mario Louis this week. Of course, Louis certainly earned it, with nine catches for 211 yards and two touchdowns during a 29-25 win against Texas Southern in the team’s home finale. “You’re talking about a guy with great size. We’re not talking about a guy that’s 5-8. We’re talking about a guy that’s 6-1, about 200 pounds. And no, he’s not Randy Moss speed. But he’s a competitor. … This guy knows how to play football. Those are the things that, as a scout, you look for: size, confidence, ability to break tackles and run routes and make the tough catch. Mario has done it all.”

Southern rallies for late touchdown, upsets Alabama State

On the verge of another collapse, the Southern football team needed a game-winning drive in the closing minutes against Alabama State.

In stunning and refreshing change, the Jaguars delivered.

Brian McCain scored on a 1-yard dive with 9 seconds left, giving Southern a stunning 26-23 upset victory over the Hornets on Saturday afternoon at the Cramton Bowl.

The Jaguars took a 12-point lead into the fourth quarter but watched it fall apart as ASU quarterback Greg Jenkins led the Hornets to 16 unanswered points, aided by an ineffective and turnover-prone Southern offense. Running back Tim Clark scored from 5 yards away with 3:07 remaining, giving Alabama State a 23-19 lead.

The Jaguars, led by quarterback J.P. Douglas, drove 73 yards in 10 plays and scored with 9 seconds left on a 1-yard dive by fullback Brian McCain.

Douglas came off the bench for Dray Joseph, who made a surprise start but suffered a concussion in the second quarter.

The SU quarterbacks combined to throw for 331 yards, two touchdowns and one interception.

The win gave Southern (4-6, 4-4 Southwestern Athletic Conference) a boost as it gears up for the Bayou Classic on Nov. 26.

Alabama State (7-3, 7-2) missed its chance to clinch the Eastern Division title.

We all saw this coming, right?