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.