Stevens: Southern's Offense Hopes To Do Some Marching, Too

Aug. 22, 2012

New Mexico Lobos Football - University Stadium - Branch Field

Who: Lobos vs. Southern University
When: 3 p.m., Saturday, Sept. 1
Radio: 770 KKOB-AM, Lobo Radio Network; pregame at noon
GoLobos.com: GameTracker, Game Story, Stats, Quotes, Photo Gallery

By Richard Stevens - Senior Writer/GoLobos.com

OK, we know the Southern University band can march with the best of them, and Lobo fans likely are looking forward to that hip-hop, up-beat show executing at a high level.

But will the Southern University Jaguars' offense do any marching on the New Mexico Lobos' defense?

Probably, the Jags think they will.

The Jags will march onto Branch Field on Saturday, Sept. 1, with more than a few holes to plugs from last year's defense, but the Southern offense might look a lot like the offensive unit from 2011.

Here's why:

1. The Jaguars return their No. 1 and No. 2 quarterbacks from 2011 and both Dray Joseph and J.P. Douglas are capable of performing at a high level. It hasn't been determined which of these arms will get the start against UNM.

2. The Jags are loaded on the edges with four of their top five receivers from 2011 back. Southern also has a lot of young, talented depth at the receivers' spot.

3. The Jags return a handful of big offensive linemen, who got lots of playing time in 2011. This is not a deep front, but it is experienced.

4. The Jaguars return their leading rusher from last year, Sylvester Nzekwe, who ran for 620 yards in 2011 for a 3.8 average. The good news for UNM is Nzekwe has a bad ankle sprain and probably will miss the UNM game.

Still, this Southern offense has experience - and talent.

"This is the best team we will have in terms of speed, in terms of power, in terms of quickness and also in terms of being together as a unit," said Coach Stump Mitchell on the school's athletic website. "I see nothing but success for us."

A lot of Mitchell's optimism is keyed around his offense. There is a battle between Joseph and Douglas to see who gets the pocket vs. New Mexico and a starter probably will be named by Monday. It might not matter all that much.

The Lobos could see both quarterbacks on Sept. 1 and both quarterbacks likely will see a lot of pocket time in 2012. That's how it was in 2011 when Coach Mitchell went with both arms trying to find consistency and better execution in the pocket. . Joseph and Douglas shared the huddle last season with Joseph getting the most starts and the most yardage. He went 113-of-212 for 1,544 yards with 13 touchdowns against nine picks. Douglas, a sophomore, threw 189 times and completed 95 for 1,282 yards.

"One of those guys will be our starter, there is no question about that," said Mitchell.

The quarterback in the Southern system is active both in the air and on the ground. Nzekwe carried the ball 144 times while Douglas ran 35 times and Joseph had 60 totes.

Unless the Jags find an unknown to replace Nzekwe, the Jags' quarterback probably will be throwing and scampering all over the Branch Field come Sept. 1.

The key to earning - and keeping -- the Southern huddle probably will come down to production inside the red zone. Southern threw for a solid 256.9 yards per game and ran for a modest 63.0 yards per game for a 319.9 total. But the Jags' offense too often bogged down when it came to scoring. Southern University averaged only 21.5 points per game.

A key to getting into the end zone (especially if Nzekwe is out), is the good-hand Jags waiting for deliveries from Joseph or Douglas. These receivers are good and need to touch the ball.

"At the receivers' position, we have quite a few guys," said Mitchell on the SU website. "It's going to be interesting to see who comes forward from the receivers' position."

The Jags lost their top receiver from 2011 in LaQuinton Evans (45-for-696 yards), but return Michael Berry, who hauled in 39 passes for 508 yards and seven scores.

The Jags also return the capable hands of Lee Doss, who caught 34 passes for 410 yards and Nzekwe, who had 27 grabs for 246 yards out of the backfield. Charles Hawkins had 23 catches for 406 yards.

So, the Jags have the arms and they have the hands. Do they have the beef up front to give that Southern passing game time to click?

For sure, they have some experience and size back in Zach Brown (6-4, 320), Chris Browne (6-3, 295), Aaron Hall (6-2, 331), Dwayne Houston (6-4, 318), Taylon Jones (6-0, 280) and Brandon Thibodeaux (6-2, 320). Coach Mitchell says he likes having a core of O-linemen back, "who have played together."

The Jags went 4-7 in 2011 coming up with wins over Alabama A&M (21-6), Mississippi Valley (28-21), Alcorn State (30-14) and Alabama State (26-23). The Jags were hurt on defense against the run where the Jags bent at a 185.5-yard clip, averaging 4.2 yards per carry. Teams ran the ball at the Jags' defense 481 times and passed the ball 359 times.

A key to changing the Jags' fortunes against the run is the defensive front. It's not exactly small in 2012 behind Delwin Williams (6-2, 250), Casey Narcisse ( 6-0, 300), Benay Pryer (6-5, 310), Kadeem Lewis (6-3, 271), Justin Woods (5-10, 284) Gabe Echols (6-0, 305), Jaylen Jordan (6-4, 262) and Arthur Miley (6-7, 241).

The Jags appear to be improved from 2011 and probably eye a New Mexico team with three wins in three seasons as a possible victim. But one key to a Lobo victory is obvious:

Let the Southern University band march - but not the Jags' offense.