“I’m a true Jaguar. I’m a paid-in-full lifetime member … and I’ve given everything I possibly could — blood, sweat, tears, money — to this program since I’ve been here.” Stump Mitchell, former Southern coach
JACKSON, Miss. — Taking a place at the 50-yard line on Southern’s sideline was nothing new for Stump Mitchell.
Sitting in the stands was.
Despite being ousted as SU’s coach eight days earlier, Mitchell made the drive up to see the Jaguars take on Jackson State in a 28-21 win, sitting about 20 rows up behind the visitors’ bench among a sea of Columbia blue.
Even for Mitchell — whom athletic director William Broussard called “exceptionally professional” for the way he handled his dismissal — showing up to support the program that had just let him go was a class act.
“I’m a true Jaguar,” Mitchell said. “I’m a paid-in-full lifetime member … and I’ve given everything I possibly could — blood, sweat, tears, money — to this program since I’ve been here.”
Even without an official affiliation, supporting the team was a no-brainer for Mitchell, who had once hoped to follow in the footsteps of his relatives and play at Southern.
“Unfortunately for me, I wasn’t able to play there, but I’m glad I was blessed to be able to coach there,” Mitchell said. “I brought quite a few of those players here, and I brought all of those coaches here, so I’m hoping like heck they can do exactly what I think they can do, and that’s win it all.”
To do that, Mitchell said the top goals are to eliminate the turnovers and dropped passes that had plagued the Jaguars in two losses. They did that Saturday, not dropping any balls and winning the turnover battle 2-1.
Mitchell briefly visited with his former players and assistants before the game at their hotel, then headed over to Veterans Memorial Stadium to watch them take the field. His son Lionel is also an assistant coach working with defensive backs.
“They know I’m standing behind them, and they’re behind me,” he said. “It’s business. That’s the bottom line. You have to get it done. You can want, you can will, but it has to get done. I understand that.”
Contrary to the announcement that was made at the time of his firing, Mitchell said he had not been reassigned to a different position at the university. He said he’ll continue living in Baton Rouge and looking for his next job, with no preference between college or the NFL, where he previously enjoyed a long career as a player and assistant.
Back in the saddle
After missing the opener and being limited last week because of injuries, Southern’s starting running back duo returned against the Tigers but didn’t have much success. Sylvester Nzekwe ran for 26 yards on 15 carries, while Jerry Joseph bounced back from his torn meniscus and ran four times for 1 yard.
Both backs lost yardage late when the Jaguars ran into a crowded center in hopes of winding down the clock.
Nzekwe made his biggest impact in the passing game, where he caught two passes for 40 yards. His 23-yard gain on a screen moved Southern out of trouble and to the 35 yard line on its final drive, which ran out the clock.
Darrius Coleman, who had spearheaded the rushing attack in the first two games, did not have any carries.
Switch at kicker
Freshman Greg Pittman — SU’s starting kicker in the first two games — did not make the trip to Jackson, and Matthew Hill took his place.
While Hill did miss his lone field goal, a 35-yarder that clanged off the right upright, he did nail all four extra points.
Pittman missed his only field goal attempt (from 37 yards) against Mississippi Valley State and had hit one of his two extra-point tries. Hill was a backup on the team last season and had handled kickoff duties for the Jaguars before Saturday.
Virgil kept at bay
After shredding Mississippi Valley State for 144 return yards last week, there was no big encore performance for Virgil Williams. The cornerback had one kick return for 17 yards and was bottled up for 4 yards on two punt returns.
He may have helped cause the special teams play of the game though, when the Tigers, keen to avoid Williams, sent the opening kickoff to Jaleel Richardson.
Richardson ran that back 86 yards for a touchdown.