By Mike McCall
Taking a 66-21 whipping was not what Southern had in mind for its season-opener at New Mexico, but it really isn’t the end of the world. For one, the Human Jukebox rocked Albuquerque’s socks off, and for two, no one was seriously injured (most of the injuries were cramps).
Okay, so those aren’t the most exciting take-aways to have after the first game. But the games that matter are coming up now, so there’s no time to sit around and pout.
Here are five thoughts I’m leaving the game with:
1. This is Dray Joseph‘s team.
Joseph had a few major errors–a fumble and interception that were returned for touchdowns–and another interception, but despite all that, he looked pretty good. Joseph completed 12 of 19 passes for 163 yards and a touchdown, and he had three passes dropped that would have converted first downs, and one that might have gone for a score. The two touchdown plays weren’t all his fault, as the fumble came after a total jailbreak where he was hit on both sides, and coach Stump Mitchell said the pick-six was because the receiver let the defensive back get inside him. Of course, Dray still threw the pass and fumbled the ball, and the Jaguars can’t have that stuff this season if they want to turn things around. But Joseph took the blame, didn’t call out his receivers and got solid backing from Mitchell, who said he liked most of what he saw. J.P. Douglas came in late, but that was only because Dray cramped up. Both quarterbacks had delay of game penalties (five in all: wow), but Mitchell said those were on him because he was calling for personnel groups that included players he didn’t know were on the sideline with cramps.
2. It’s hard to judge this game.
Southern lost practice time because of weather and didn’t really know what to prepare for against New Mexico. They got an eyeful of the pistol-option offense, which they weren’t ready for and will likely never see again, so it’s hard to blame them too much. Still, the tackling was poor at times, and any time you take a beating like that, it’s a wake-up call. All in all, they leave with $350,000 and all limbs in tact, so it could be a lot worse. The key is to work on their problems before hosting Mississippi Valley State on Sept. 13.
3. Same old problems.
Speaking of the problems they need to fix, they haven’t changed since last season. The Jaguars didn’t run well (2.6 yards per carry), stop the run (347 yards allowed), or limit turnovers (four, including two for touchdowns). It’s not like this game identified those issues because they’ve known about them all along. So either they really haven’t improved, or they needed a swift kick in the backside to get things going.
4. Kicking not out of the woods.
Still speaking of old problems they needed to fix, freshman Greg Pittman missed an extra point. He made another (which was longer because of a penalty), but that miss conjured up some bad memories. It wasn’t the kind of rock-steady performance you’d like to see from Pittman, so fans will have to stay on the edge of their seats for now when the kicking game comes up.
5. Albuquerque is groovy.
Really, it is. I never thought I would be in New Mexico for anything, and I definitely never thought I’d be leaving and want to go back. But ABQ is a cool town with an interesting hipster/Latin/modern culture (odd mix, I know), and I really enjoyed my stay. The same likely won’t be said for the Jaguars, who seemed pretty dejected after the loss. But they’ve got to pick themselves up before the SWAC season, which is what really matters. Mitchell’s message to the team afterward was that the only thing this loss did was make it so Southern can’t go undefeated. All of the Jags’ other goals are in tact, and the key is to use this experience to help them get where they want to be.