A week after limiting Southwestern Athletic Conference leading rusher Kaderius Lacey to 81 yards on 21 carries, the Southern defense locks up with another running back star Saturday against Alabama State at A.W. Mumford Stadium.
Isaiah Crowell needed a place to play after being kicked off the team at Georgia in June following an arrest on felony weapons charges.
The sophomore has made the kind of impact on the SWAC you’d expect of a former five-star recruit who earned Southeastern Conference Freshman of the Year honors last season.
“He has that ability to go the distance. He can run between the tackles. Has great balance and great power,” Southern coach Dawson Odums said. “You can see why he was chosen to play in the SEC. He does a great job finding holes — has great vision. He’s probably one of the better running backs we’ve seen this year.”
Crowell enters the weekend behind only Lacey in the race for the conference rushing title. He has 621 yards on 124 carries and a league-high 12 rushing touchdowns.
Even after being held in check last week, Lacey leads the conferences at 817 yards on 151 carries.
Crowell has found the end zone in eight of nine games. He surpassed 100 yards rushing in three straight games earlier this season.
Sylvester Nzekwe has breathed life to the Southern running game with back-to-back 100-yard performances. That may be because the former walk-on has fresh legs.
Unlike teammates who will play their 10th straight game Saturday without a week off, Nzekwe missed three games early in the season with a high ankle sprain.
Odums said the injury to Nzekwe may have been a blessing in disguise.
“Sylvester’s one of the few players that has had a bye week,” Odums said. “He missed a couple of games due to injury, he was able to get himself well and now he has fresh legs.”
Odums enters Saturday with 264 yards on 57 carries, with 211 of those yards coming during breakout performances the last two weeks.
Nzekwe had Southern’s first 100-yard effort of the season when he carried for 106 yards against Prairie View. He followed that up with 105 yards at Alabama A&M.
In forcing opponents to respect the running game, Odums said Nzekwe has allowed quarterback Dray Joseph and his receivers to find more opportunities to make plays down the field.
“That’s opening up a lot of lanes for Lee Doss, Charles Hawkins and Mike Berry to get behind the defense,” Odums said.
Alabama State backup Daniel Duhart earned SWAC Offensive Player of the Week recognition after passing for 192 yards and two scores in leading the Hornets back from a 14-0 deficit against Prairie View.
Duhart got his chance when starter Greg Jenkins suffered an injury late in the first quarter.
“Greg had a little issue there, so we wanted to protect him,” Alabama State coach Reggie Barlow said. “He probably could have stayed and played.”
Barlow expects Jenkins, who ranks sixth in the SWAC in total offense, to be back in the lineup for Saturday’s game.
“He’ll be fine,” Barlow said. “He’s his normal self, so he’ll be ready to play on Saturday.”
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