There were many disconcerting numbers from Southern’s 66-21 loss to New Mexico.
The Jaguars allowed 347 rushing yards, gave up 38 points in the second quarter, handed over three touchdowns via offense and special teams, and averaged 2.6 yards per carry.
But there’s only one number that matters: zero.
That’s how many losses Southern has in the Southwestern Athletic Conference.
Even after taking an embarrassing beating from a program that has been one of the worst in college football over the past few years, SU returned to Baton Rouge with its goals in tact.
As coach Stump Mitchell told his players in the locker room after the game, the only thing they lost Saturday was a chance to go undefeated.
And even Mitchell — who famously (and unfortunately) predicted an unblemished run in 2010 that fell far short at 2-9 — couldn’t have really believed the Jaguars were primed for an 11-0 campaign.
The realistic goals for this team are set a bit lower than a perfect season, but winning the SWAC West is certainly reasonable. And most importantly, it’s still within reach.
When the sun rose on Sunday — it did, after all — Southern was sitting in a tie for second in its division. In fact, this weekend went about as well as it could for the Jaguars in the big picture.
Their (likely) biggest competitors in the West, Grambling and Prairie View, both lost their SWAC openers to two of the (predicted) worst teams in the conference. The Tigers fell to Alcorn State, while the Panthers stumbled in a 44-41 thriller against Texas Southern, which, by the way, isn’t eligible to win the league this year.
So at 0-1 overall, Southern may as well be in first place.
If this sounds like shining up you-know-what and calling it gold, it is. But SU’s start to the year wasn’t as bad as the scoreboard suggests, and the important thing is to keep some perspective and bounce back.
When the Jaguars trudged off the field at University Stadium, they did it with their heads hanging low. A well-intentioned woman in UNM gear tried to cheer them up with a few “great job” comments, but that only seemed to make it worse.
After an offseason of hard work and telling themselves this year would be better, they instead came out and found more of the same.
That’s depressing. As Mitchell said, this year still can be better. But it won’t be if Southern doesn’t learn from its mistakes.
The preseason didn’t cure all the ailments. The same three elements of rushing, run-stopping and turnovers (let’s call them “The Trifecta of Doom”) are still a thorn in the paw, and with more than a week until the Sept. 13 home opener against Mississippi Valley State, SU has to get its head on straight and get busy working toward its goal of a SWAC title.
As cornerback Virgil Williams said, that UNM pounding was a reality check that the team clearly needed, and while “Rout 66” wasn’t a fun ride for the Jaguars, it can still take them where they want to go.