Mitchell expecting turnaround season
By MIKE McCALL
August 01, 2012
BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — With a 6-16 record going into the final guaranteed year of his contract, it’s pretty clear that Southern football coach Stump Mitchell’s job is on the line.
Just don’t expect him to fret over it.
“Nah, that doesn’t bother me. I had a job before I got here, and I’m going to have a job after this season,” Mitchell said. “Hopefully it’s going to be at Southern.”
Mitchell’s carefree attitude comes from an unwavering belief that 2012 is the year things will turn around. He said this season’s squad is the best he’s had at SU in every aspect, including strength, conditioning, speed and mental toughness.
And perhaps most importantly, the military-school grad feels he finally has the leadership and discipline he’s been looking for since he arrived in Baton Rouge.
All those are reasons for optimism, and they’re why wide receiver Charles Hawkins said he believes the Jaguars — picked to finish fourth in their division — are going to “shock everybody in the SWAC.”
Still, watching Mitchell casually brush away questions about his future employment at media day ate away at his players’ nerves.
They can feel the sense of urgency, even if he doesn’t.
“All the pressure is on us,” defensive tackle Casey Narcisse said. “He’s laid-back, and we’re the ones stressing out because we have to keep him around. He’s a great individual and coach, and I would love for him to coach the people who are younger than us who he brought in.”
Narcisse can get things moving in the right direction by quite literally tackling one of the team’s biggest issues.
The 6-foot-1, 305-pound nose tackle is the leader of a run-stopping unit that ranked last in the conference in 2011, giving up a cringe-inducing 185.5 yards per game and 4.2 yards per carry.
If the Jaguars are going to fight back this year, that’s a good place to start.
“I take that upon myself as a senior defensive lineman that we were last,” Narcisse said. “It was very painful, but we’re working hard, working toward our goals, and like people say, getting our swag back. We really are excited.”
For as bad as the run defense was, the rushing offense was worse. The Jaguars accounted for 2.4 yards per carry and 63 yards per game — worst in the SWAC by 44.1 yards.
That burden falls on the offensive line and projected starting running back Sylvester Nzekwe, who picked up 545 yards and three scores last year, averaging 3.8 yards per carry.
Then there’s the kicking game, a woeful department that Mitchell will rely on a trio of newcomers to fix.
Newly hired special teams coordinator Marty Biagi — himself a punter at Marshall — will lead freshman kicker Greg Pittman and freshman punter Chase Tuten, the son of former NFL Pro Bowl punter Rick Tuten.
The Jaguars expect a tough offseason workout program under strength and conditioning coach Corliss Fingers to make a difference across the board — especially in the fourth quarter, where SU was outscored 79-26 last year and lost four games by a combined 13 points.
That — along with players falling in line with Mitchell’s plan — has led to a change in the team’s culture heading into Year 3.
“They’re starting to buy into the system,” Hawkins said of his teammates. “They don’t have this mentality that we’re going to lose.”
The final difference from last season to now is Mitchell himself.
He has been more relaxed this offseason, an attitude Narcisse jokingly describes as, “Not hollering every time he sees somebody.”
After two years trying to right the ship, in terms of discipline, academics and wins, Mitchell can see results on the horizon.
“These guys have put up with me for three years,” Mitchell said.
“That’s the good thing: They’re still there, and so am I.”