By Mike McCall
We’re a day away from Southern’s 6 p.m. showdown against Arkansas-Pine Bluff, where the Jaguars (3-3, 2-2 SWAC) have a chance to take over first place in the West division from the Golden Lions (4-2, 3-1 SWAC).
To get you ready, here’s a roundup of the key storylines heading into this contest. Check them out and click the links for more details:
– First off, this is the biggest game of the year for Southern. Traditional rivalry matchups like Jackson State and Grambling are big, but it doesn’t get more crucial than facing the team the Jaguars are going head-to-head with for the West title for the rest of the year (not to mention the impact of last year’s fight between these two squads — more on that in Saturday’s paper). After a long championship drought, SU is right in the thick of things, and this is the best chance to get a leg up.
– Southern is coming off its best game of the year, a 34-7 pounding of Texas Southern to spark hopes that the Jaguars can put together the kind of consistent, complete performances that it takes to win a title. The last time they were in this position (after a two-game win streak), they flopped and lost to Alcorn State. Determined not to have another lapse in focus, SU coach Dawson Odums has gone so far as to take the team to Lafayette the night before home games.
– These teams are also remarkably close statistically, with differences of 0.1 points per game scored, 2.5 points allowed per game and 2 total yards allowed for the whole season. That — along with an expected large crowd at A.W. Mumford Stadium, the fight and the chance at first place — should make for a really good game.
– On offense, Southern is hoping to move the ball as well as it did against Texas Southern, but given the fact that the Golden Lions’ defense makes the Tigers look like pee-wee football, that will be a bit tough. The running game showed a bit of a pulse last week, and if receiver Charles Hawkins can continue in his recovery, those would be two nice boosts.
– Defensively, the Jaguars will be going up against UAPB offensive coordinator Eric Dooley — a former SU assistant — and his wide variety of formations. The Golden Lions haven’t exactly been an offensive machine this season, but stopping them will be tougher thanks to a bunch of injuries in the Southern secondary. Cornerback Virgil Williams was set to replace free safety Mychal Bell, who was struggling with an ankle injury, but then Bell returned and all looked well. Then, Williams hurt his shoulder on Tuesday and Bell hurt his knee Wednesday, and both of them are out this weekend, with Bell possibly missing the rest of the year. No bueno.
– Prediction: Southern plays well in spurts, but UAPB’s consistency pays off in a 20-10 Golden Lions win. I’m almost always wrong, so you should be happy with that prediction.
That’s all folks. Enjoy the game!