By MIKE McCALL
August 14, 2012
Smash and Dash. Thunder and Lightning. Double Trouble.
Any time a team has a running back tandem, it’s practically begging for a nickname.
So what about Southern’s duo of Sylvester Nzekwe, the elusive one, and Jerry Joseph, the straight-ahead pounder?
“We’re working on it,” Nzekwe said.
Beyond a nickname, a lot of work will go into the Jaguars’ running game during fall training camp, which began on Friday.
And it needs it.
SU finished last in the Southwestern Athletic Conference for rushing offense last season, averaging a measly 63 yards per game. The next-worst SWAC team, Alabama State, put up 107.
If Southern is to experience the kind of bounce-back year everyone on The Bluff is hoping for, that run game is a good place to start.
“As a running back, I definitely take it personally,” Joseph said. “We have the talent that we need to be at the top of the SWAC. I believe this year, me and Sylvester can take it the distance at any time. … I think all the pieces are there. I think this is going to be the year.”
It’s a safe bet that head coach Stump Mitchell and running backs coach Elvis Joseph — both of whom played running back in the NFL — take it personally too.
But there’s no quick fix to SU’s rushing woes, which could be attributed to several factors.
The Jaguars didn’t run much — their 291 carries were the least in the league, with six teams over 400 and no one else below 350 — and were forced to throw more when playing from behind in games.
On top of that, the offensive line struggled with injuries and inexperience, and Mitchell often decided to place his bets on a talented group of receivers rather than the ground game.
Not to mention the biggest issue.
“And we weren’t great running it when we did run,” offensive line coach Paul Lounsberry said.
But there are reasons for optimism, too. In other words, Southern can see the hole opening.
After three games averaging just 1.3 yards per carry, the Jaguars turned to Nzekwe in the fourth week and got good results.
He tallied 42 yards and two touchdowns on 14 carries against Florida A&M, then posted totals of 86, 108, 51 and 134 yards in the next four contests. That didn’t solve all the problems — SU totaled 12 rushing yards against Texas Southern and 31 against Grambling — but getting Nzekwe involved was a big step in the right direction.
“We expect some good things out of him,” Elvis Joseph said. “He made a major improvement from his freshman year and played really hard last year. He just has to do a better job of protecting the ball. But he’s a smart guy and an every-down back.”
Then Jerry Joseph, a little-used senior, burst onto the scene with a solid spring to fill out the backfield.
The tandem will offer a change of pace — Elvis calls Jerry (no relation) one of the strongest players on the team — and along with a solid group of fullbacks and more stable offensive line, there may be brighter days ahead.
“The first two years we were young,” Elvis Joseph said. “We had a lot of guys learning the system, and now for the most part these guys know the system. We’re looking forward to them going out there playing and reacting, and just having fun.
“I’m looking for big things this fall from that group.”
Southern is still looking for a third back — perhaps junior Darrius Coleman or freshmen Anthony Scott or Lenard Tillery — to emerge during fall training camp, but for now, the Jaguars are ready to run with Nzekwe and Joseph.
But what about that nickname?
“A two-headed monster, I guess you could call it,” Nzekwe said.
They’re working on it.