The Alabama State football team returned to the practice gridiron Tuesday night preparing for its final Southwestern Athletic Conference game at Southern.
The Hornets (6-3 overall, 6-2 SWAC) will face the Jaguars (3-6, 2-5) Saturday at 6 p.m. in Baton Rouge, La. at Southern’s A.W. Mumford Stadium. The game will be broadcast live on WVAS 90.7 FM.
“Tonight’s practice was one of the most energized and enthusiastic practices we’ve had in a long time,” head coach Reggie Barlow said. “I was happy to see the guys with some good energy. Sometimes when the weather changes and its cold, guys seem to not be where they need to mentally, but they had a lot of energy and we appreciate their efforts.”
If it sounds like the repeat of déjà vu all over again, it is. For the third consecutive season, Alabama State will face Southern with a chance to win the East title. In 2010, the Hornets won at Southern 21-19, and combined with an Alcorn State loss, Alabama State won the division. In 2011, a 26-23 home loss to Southern denied the Hornets the division crown. This season, Alabama State can win the division with a win at Southern PLUS a Jackson State loss to Alabama A&M or a JSU loss at Alcorn State next week.
“It’s pretty crazy how that happens,” Barlow said of the division title scenario again playing out against Southern. “A couple of years ago, we were able to keep them out of the end zone on a two-point conversion to get the win. Sometimes history repeats itself. Last year, Southern drove the ball down on us and scored in the final minute and kept us out of the championship game. Hopefully, this year we can go and take care of our business and then the other external things that we have no control over we won’t get caught up in it and just do what we need to do.”
Southern made a coaching change in mid-September, replacing Stump Mitchell with defensive coordinator Dawson Odums. The Jaguars are coming off a 24-23 overtime loss at Alabama A&M, and has the conference’s best passing game, averaging more than 230 yards per game through the air. Top threats Mike Berry and Lee Doss have combined for 1,036 passing yards and 11 touchdowns.
“It’s a different team,” Barlow said of the Jaguars under Odums. “They are running the same system, but they are throwing the ball a lot. Their leading rusher (Sylvester Nzekwe) has less than 300 yards rushing, but they are throwing it around. They have two explosive receivers in Berry and Doss that we have to make sure we look out for. Their quarterback, Dray Joseph, has taken ownership of the offense and seems real comfortable in making the plays for them.”
The Hornets return to practice Wednesday at 3 p.m. and Thursday at 11 a.m.