Southern’s Mike Jones comes up big at Alabama State

MONTGOMERY, Ala. — All week, Alabama State coach Reggie Barlow fretted about how his youthful and inexperienced secondary would contend with Southern quarterback Dray Joseph and the guy he called the best receiver in the conference, Lee Doss.

It turns out he didn’t have to worry about Doss, who was suspended Monday for a violation of team rules. That should have been a bonus for the Alabama State secondary.

“That’s what you would think,” Barlow said. “We know and have a lot of respect for Doss, all these kids — (Randall) Menard and (Bradley) Coleman. They’ve got some really good receivers, explosive guys. We just couldn’t make the plays. They were throwing it up, see if we can make the play or get the penalty. And in most cases, they got them.”

Losing Doss, Southern coach Dawson Odums said, might have been a blessing in disguise for Joseph, who had to look at other players in order to complete passes Saturday.

“It made him become a quarterback again because he doesn’t have to stare down one guy,” Odums said. “So he was able to move the football around, so it opened it up for other guys. It was great to see him play up to the standards that we expect.”

Joseph completed 26 of 45 passes for 427 yards and four touchdowns and, as Odums said, that might be what you would expect out of the Southwestern Athletic Conference’s top quarterback. But third-year sophomore Mike Jones had to be happy with the one-game suspension of Doss, giving him the opportunity to have a career day by catching five passes for 211 yards, including touchdown grabs of 68, 74 and 13 yards.

“All week in practice, we have been talking about the next man has to be ready,” Jones said. “(Receivers) coach (Chris) Coleman has faith in all the receivers. At any given time, any one of us can have a huge game. It’s a loss to have Doss down but all of the receivers can play so we weren’t too worried about it.

“The line was blocking perfect today and Dray was putting it on the money. In certain plays, when they had on the press, we’d switch it to a ‘go’ route, and I was just beating the press.”

Alabama State, under first-year coordinator Kevin Ramsey, often employs a “cover zero” look that leaves the Hornets secondary players in man-to-man coverage while blitzing linebackers. The struggles of an inexperienced secondary has forced Ramsey to abandon that strategy at times this season, but whenever he came back to it Saturday, the Jaguars were ready.

“At halftime, we just went in and made a couple of corrections to coverages,” Jones said. “The play-calling was great. Because they were playing a lot of cover zero and press man, we switched to ‘blazers,’ our ‘go’ route, and just beat them off the line. We watched a lot of film, and we saw they ran a lot of cover zero and so we took advantage of that.”

Barlow, and his defense, had no answer. Stay in base and Joseph would throw underneath the coverage to receivers. Go to ‘cover zero’ and succeed on some plays, while getting burned on others.

“It was fade routes, basically,” said Barlow, a former NFL receiver. “You’ve got to make the play. It’s one-on-one, bump, man-to-man coverage. The one (to Jones for 74 yards) with (ASU cornerback Dionte) Ponder, he got turned around. The kid made a nice move and ran a slant route. Another was just a long throw, and the kid made the play and our guy didn’t.

“We knew they had some good ones, but the young kid that had all the yards today, Jones, he’s pretty good.”

Odums didn’t seem surprised.

“It’s just a matter of having confidence,” he said. “Opportunity presents itself in different shapes, forms and sizes. You never know when you’re going to get your opportunity.

“My job as a coach is to make sure that everybody is prepared, so that when they get the opportunity, they make the best out of it and those guys did that.”