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Southern defense ready for Grambling challenge
Southern defensive tackle Jordan Miller peered across the ground floor of the Superdome late Monday morning, sneaking a peek at the main attraction for this year’s Bayou Classic.
There he was, neatly attired in a black sweater, with a mustard-gold “G” on his chest: Mr. Frank Warren, the leading rusher in the Southwestern Athletic Conference, a running back whom Prairie View coach Henry Frazier III once referred to as a “stud, plain and simple.”
Yes indeed. As Miller concluded, the Grambling offense will be more than a handful at 1 p.m. Saturday, when these two archrivals square off in the biggest game in black college football.
Warren? He’ll be a really big handful.
“That guy’s an athlete, man. He’s the star of the show,” Miller said, laughing as he shook his head. “He’s supposed to be Reggie (Bush).”
SU first-year coach Stump Mitchell has heaped truckloads of praise on Warren and Grambling the past two weeks, even saying he expects Warren to land (and stay) in the NFL next season.
Still, somehow, Miller said he likes the Jaguars’ chances in the Bayou Classic — even if Southern (2-8, 1-7) will go into New Orleans as decided underdogs against the strong, physical Tigers (8-2, 7-1).
Miller didn’t make any Joe Namath-like guarantees. He didn’t say he’d stonewall the Tigers’ offensive line or leave Warren on the ground in a pile of lumps.
But Miller did say he felt confident in his defensive teammates.
He was serious.
“I feel like the experience — us having faced similar running backs, seeing where we’ve messed up — I feel like we’ll be a lot better going ahead,” he said. “We’ll be able to pinpoint where we’ve messed up, and how we’ll be able to improve during this week.”
How could Miller feel this way? Surely, he must have missed all the pertinent information. After all, Southern ranks seventh in the SWAC in total defense, and many of its losses this season were ugly, peppered with missed tackles and blown assignments.
What’s more, the Grambling offense enjoys its reputation as a steamroller, having pounded out 210 rushing yards per game.
Saturday afternoon, the Southern front four will give up an average of 24 pounds per man against Grambling’s powerful offensive line.
The line powers an offense that has averaged 29.2 points per game, even as it breaks in a 5-foot-10 freshman quarterback in Anthony Carrothers.
Then there’s Warren, who spent three seasons sharing the load with fellow senior Cornelius Walker.
This fall, however, Warren is alone on center stage, ranking third in the nation with 1,431 rushing yards.
“Cornelius had an ankle injury (earlier this year), which slowed him down,” Grambling fourth-year coach Rod Broadway said. “So Frank started touching the ball and he got hot, playing like I thought he’s capable of playing. So hey, we kept giving him the ball.”
Despite all this, Miller remains confident.
First, he said, there’s just a feeling. Southern is trying to avoid its first nine-loss season in school history, yet at practice, the Jaguars have hardly looked like the kind of team that’s ready to hide at the first sign of trouble. To put it another way, they at least seem fired up.
Of course, it’ll take much more than emotion to defeat the Tigers, much less slow them down.
It’s been almost two weeks since Southern played its last game — a 21-19 loss to Alabama State, one of eight losses this season, one that looked like so many other.
Almost completely overlooked in the aftermath, however, was the fact Southern’s defense, burned and beaten so many times this season, held ASU to 144 yards.
It was a season low for an SU opponent and a season low for Alabama State, which will represent the Eastern Division in the SWAC title game next month.
“As a defense, I feel like in the last game, we started to jell,” Miller said. “It happened way too late, as far as the season goes. But I feel like we started to jell and started to get a swagger that we’re going to carry into this game. And I feel confident we’re going to be able to take care of business when the lights come on.”
Maybe then, for once, they can be the main attraction.
By Perryn Keys, The Advocate