LORMAN, Miss. — Alcorn State’s statistically weak rushing defense provided Southern a chance to get its maligned running attack in gear, but the Jaguars offense only clicked in fits and starts.
Entering Saturday’s game at Spinks-Casem Stadium, the Braves were allowing more than 250 yards rushing, but Southern found a defense nowhere near that charitable when Alcorn rallied for a 20-17 win.
For the game, Southern managed just 48 yards rushing, and converted 4 of 12 third downs while waiting until late in the third quarter to find its offensive groove. It wasn’t enough as Alcorn outgained Southern 337 yards to 220, including 145 yards on the ground.
“Offensively, we didn’t get a good rhythm going,” said Southern quarterback Dray Joseph, who threw for 172 yards and a touchdown but was sacked three times.
“Offensively, we don’t do a good job of coming out strong, and that plays a role. We’re all waiting for that spark to happen instead of just being that spark. Next week, I’m going to be that spark.”
Southern had five first-half possessions against Alcorn, but mounted only one sustained drive.
The Jaguars drove from their own 28 to a first down at the ASU 19. Two incompletions and a sack later, Greg Pittman’s 43-yard field-goal attempt was blocked.
Southern crossed midfield once more in the second quarter after Joseph’s 32-yard completion to Lee Doss. Alcorn held Southern on third-and-2, and the Jaguars punted into the end zone for a touchback.
“The execution was tough, and we didn’t play with any consistency,” Southern coach Dawson Odums said. “We made some mistakes, but we did some good things, as well. We understand that this is part of football. They’ve got a good football team.”
One of the good things for Southern’s offense came late in the third quarter after Alcorn had taken a 14-0 lead. Joseph found Mike Berry for an 80-yard touchdown reception that sparked the entire team.
With special teams chipping in with a touchdown, Southern stormed back to take a 17-14 lead. It was a lead the Jaguars still held when they took over at the SU 37 with 8:25 to play. An incompletion and two runs netted minus-2 yards, and Southern punted back to Alcorn, which then went on its game-winning drive.
“After that (80-yard pass), you saw how we came out and started to gel offensively,” Joseph said. “The game changed, but we can’t wait on that. We’ve got to come out fast.”
Southern’s running back corps has been thinned with injuries to Sylvester Nzekwe and Jerry Joseph.
Nzekwe missed Saturday’s game, but Joseph returned, rushing nine times for a team-high 38 yards.
“(Jerry Joseph) ran hard tonight,” Odums said. “He ran up in there a couple of times, and if you do that, you’ll get knocked back. It’s tough to keep sticking your face in there, but I thought he ran hard.”
Wide receiver Charles Hawkins has been hampered by a hamstring injury, but he returned to action after sitting out last week’s win over Florida A&M.
Hawkins had no catches Saturday and was a nonfactor much of the game.
“We spread the ball around and don’t try to get any one individual involved,” Odums said. “I don’t know if he re-injured himself, but we had him set up to be part of the game plan.”
The result was a loss to an Alcorn team that Southern was expected to handle.
“Everybody looks at records, but (Alcorn’s) coaches did a great job getting their kids ready to play,” Odums said. “We were ready, too. That’s why it was an exciting football game. We just didn’t make enough plays overall as a team to win the game.”