“I have a math degree, and I always tell the players, if you get the steps right, you’ll get the answer right most of the time. So getting the steps right is our biggest concern.” Heishma Northern, Prairie View coach
Maybe, just maybe, Prairie View has finally awoken from the slumber that cost it the first give games of the season.
If so, that’s not good news for an injury-riddled Southern football team. The Jaguars could be facing Prairie View at the worst possible time: as the Panthers hit their offensive stride.
After five disastrous losses, Prairie View has rebounded for back-to-back wins. The Panthers have also scored a combined 83 points the last two weeks.
“Everything is starting to fall into place,” said Prairie View fifth-year senior receiver Spencer Nelson. “(De’Auntre) Smiley’s back, and he’s in the groove. He’s working well with the offense.”
Prairie View is fresh off a 52-37 homecoming win over Alcorn State, a game in which Smiley, the Panthers’ sophomore quarterback, completed 16 of 20 passes for 251 yards and four touchdowns, earning SWAC Offensive Player of the Week honors.
Smiley (concussion) had been out since the Alabama A&M game, and the Panthers offense had sputtered in his absence. But Smiley’s injury wasn’t the only reason for the team’s misfortunes.
“Before these last two wins, we were shooting ourselves in the foot a lot,” Nelson explained. “We were committing way too many penalties.
These last two games we’ve focused more on the details and executed our plays more.”
Prairie View (2-5, 2-3 Southwestern Athletic Conference) needs to defeat Southern (3-4, 2-3) when the teams meet at 4 p.m. Saturday inside Shreveport’s Independence Stadium to stay alive in the Western Division race.
If Prairie View loses, it will not have a chance of catching first-place Arkansas Pine Bluff.
“This next game is the biggest game of the season,” Prairie View coach Heishma Northern said. “If you drop this one, all the other ones don’t matter.”
Like Southern, Prairie View has battled its share of inconsistencies this season.
The Panthers offense, under second-year coordinator Mark Orlando, ranks third in scoring (24.9 points per game). Prairie View also ranks third in total offense, averaging 374.9 yards per game.
Their ground attack, averaging 185.3 yards per game, is almost as productive as the passing game (189.6 yards per game).
The thing, is Prairie View hasn’t yet proven it can stop anyone. The Panthers allow 38 points per game. Only Texas Southern (41 points per game) is worse.
“I have a math degree, and I always tell the players, if you get the steps right, you’ll get the answer right most of the time,” Northern said of the defense. “So getting the steps right is our biggest concern.”
For Southern interim coach Dawson Odums, the same rule applies.
He, too, would like to see his defense come up with a few stops. But he conceded that could be challenging as his patchwork secondary prepares for Prairie View’s spread no-huddle offense.
“They seem like they got it going in the right direction,” Odums said. “They got off to a slow start and they found a way to score some points.”
To keep Prairie View off the scoreboard, Odums said the Jaguars will have to get pressure on Smiley and slow Nelson, who rushed for a touchdown and passed for a touchdown in the Panthers win over Alcorn.
“They’re starting to hit their stride at the right time,” Odums said.