Southern football coach Stump Mitchell didn’t waste much time getting to the point.
There were many topics of discussion after the Jaguars’ first scrimmage of fall camp on Saturday, but Mitchell cut straight to the one on SU fans’ minds: the quarterback battle between Dray Joseph and J.P. Douglas.
“I thought Dray played the best — and I know that’s what everybody wants to know — out of the two quarterbacks,” Mitchell said. “J.P. made some mental errors, and he just has to do what we ask him to do and not try too much.”
Joseph was a surprise participant after being held out of Friday’s practice with a blister on his right big toe, but the junior wasn’t about to hand Douglas a day with the spotlight to himself.
“I didn’t expect him to play today, but he came out like a true warrior and played pretty good,” Mitchell said.
Joseph’s victory doesn’t show up in the stat sheet. He completed just 4 of 13 passes for 39 yards, while Douglas was 6-for-11 with 120 yards and a touchdown. Douglas led the only two touchdown drives of the day, setting up a 4-yard Brian McCain TD run with a 40-yard pass to receiver Lee Doss, and he tossed a score of his own with a 46-yard strike to receiver Thomas Jackson.
But both of those came against the second-team defense, and Douglas did make a few mistakes that could have been very costly.
On the drive before his touchdown to Jackson, Douglas missed an open receiver, had linemen jump offside twice and was sacked by defensive end Arthur Miley. On the play before his touchdown, he also tried to throw to Jackson, but backup cornerback Sony Sanon stepped in front of it for a sure pick-6, only to drop it and set up the 4th-and-6 bomb seconds later.
Douglas said he needs to stop trying to force passes and take what the defense gives him, and he added that he and his receivers were often not on the same page.
“Being able to put together two scoring drives, that was pretty good for the first team and second team,” he said. “Some things I didn’t like were miscommunication with receivers sometimes. That’s just something we need to work on that’s going to come as the season progresses.”
While Joseph didn’t make as many mistakes, he also didn’t come away with any big plays. On his best chance, he overthrew an open Doss, who was streaking down the right sideline near the end zone.
The highlights of Joseph’s day were notching the only two first downs allowed by the first-team defense, which came via an 11-yard completion to tight end Rashaun Allen and a 16-yard strike to Charles Hawkins on 3rd-and-10.
Other than that, the starting defense was all but impenetrable.
During its six drives, the unit allowed just 25 yards on 24 plays, only giving up a 39-yard field goal during red-zone drills and nearly notching an interception on the third play, when cornerback Johnathan Mack broke up a Douglas pass to Lee Doss, and strong safety Levi Jackson bobbled and dropped the deflection.
“The defense brought it to us today,” Mitchell said.
All told, the starting offense put up 90 yards, a touchdown and a field goal on 30 plays across seven drives, but the majority of that production came on Douglas’ six-play, 65-yard scoring drive against the backup defense.
Of biggest concern for the unit is the run game. Southern managed just 34 yards on 17 carries, and that yardage total drops to just five when six sacks for a loss of 29 are factored in.
With starting running backs Sylvester Nzekwe and Jerry Joseph sidelined because of injury and freshman Lenard Tillery held out as well, Darrius Coleman ran with the first team and Terrance Clayton with the second. Neither had much success, with Coleman posting five yards on six carries and Clayton running six times for 16 yards.
Defensive standouts included free safety Mychal Bell — who regularly found himself in the middle of the action — and defensive ends Kadeem Lewis and Jaylen Jordan, who notched two sacks.
Defensive coordinator Dawson Odums was happy with the linebackers, as starters Detrane Lindsey, Javon Allen, Corry Roy and Franchot West showed a high work rate.
“Everybody knows our linebackers are guys who haven’t played a whole lot of football, but we watched them go downhill today, take their coaching from (Thaddeus Washington) and make plays,” Odums said.
Linebacker Anthony Balancier was among the best of the backups, coming away with a sack, pass breakup and a few tackles.
But despite the lockdown performance, Bell and Balancier both said they weren’t content. Balancier cited gap responsibility as one area in need of fine-tuning.
“Even though the fans see that we’re doing good, we still have a lot of things to improve on,” he said. “Just because they’re seeing big hits and we’re tackling and all that, everything hasn’t come together like we want it to do. We just have to keep working as a whole.”
That’s the mantra for the entire team, which still has two more scrimmages and just less than three weeks before the season opener at New Mexico.
“We’re not right where we want to be, but we’re getting there,” Bell said. “The more practice we get and the more film room we get, we’ll be ready come Sept. 1 to go down there to New Mexico, handle business and come back with a W.”