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Alabama A&M, Alabama State trying to avoid costly SWAC slipups
The champion of the Southwestern Athletic Conference will be determined on Dec. 8 when the annual title game is played at Birmingham’s Legion Field. But the way things are shaping up, the winner of the SWAC’s East Division could be decided at that same stadium more than a month earlier, when Alabama A&M and Alabama State meet in the Magic City Classic on Oct. 27.
A&M and ASU are starting to separate from the other three teams in the East Division. The Bulldogs (5-0, 4-0 SWAC) are off to their best start in 46 years. The Hornets (3-2, 3-1) are right behind A&M in the standings, having won three of their past four since a season-opening, non-conference loss to Bethune-Cookman.
Both teams have good opportunities to continue their winning ways on Saturday with games against a pair of one-win opponents. A&M travels to Mississippi Valley State (1-3, 1-1) for a 2 p.m. kickoff, while ASU hosts Texas Southern (1-4, 1-2) beginning at 1 p.m.
Turnovers have been one of the keys for both teams so far this season. A&M hasn’t been committing them, and ASU has forced bunches of them.
The Bulldogs have turned the ball over only twice all season. Senior quarterback Deaunte Mason has thrown 109 passes without an interception. He has completed 69 percent of his attempts and passed for a total of 960 yards and nine touchdowns. Mason has been named the SWAC offensive player of the week each of the past three weeks.
“The thing we really spent a lot of time working on this offseason was not committing turnovers,” A&M coach Anthony Jones said. “That was something we really felt like we had to get under control. So far, all that preaching and talking is paying off in a way that’s helping us to win a lot of games.”
Meanwhile, ASU has forced nine turnovers in the past four games, and it has been a true team effort. The Hornets have had a total of 14 different players who have made an interception, forced a fumble or recovered a fumble.
“Our defense has been the backbone of our program for a while here,” ASU coach Reggie Barlow said. “It’s great to see this group of guys making plays and getting turnovers. Hopefully it gives our guys confidence knowing we can create turnovers and score points with the turnovers. We’re hoping to build on that.”
West Alabama vs. Midwestern State, 6:30 p.m.
In a matchup of top-20 Division II teams, No. 8 West Alabama (4-1) takes on No. 14 Midwestern State (3-1) in a regionally televised game.
The Tigers are coming off a 24-21 victory over West Georgia in which they rushed for 313 yards against a team that had entered the game as the top rushing defense in the Gulf South Conference. UWA also intercepted four passes in that contest.
Jacksonville State at Tennessee Tech, 7 p.m.
Jacksonville State (2-2, 1-1 Ohio Valley Conference) will be seeking a measure of revenge against Tennessee Tech (2-3, 0-2). Tech has beaten JSU each of the past two seasons, losses that cost the Gamecocks a share of the OVC championship in 2010 and the outright title in 2011.
“We had very inconsistent games with them the past two years,” JSU coach Jack Crowe said. “Having the ability to finish them has been lacking in most cases. But I don’t think we match up poorly with them. All we need to do is for everyone to take care of their responsibility and go out and play.”
Crowe said one of the keys for JSU will be containing quarterback Tre Lamb, who ranks seventh nationally in passing efficiency (159.63) and eighth in passing yards per game (283.6).
North Alabama at Texas A&M-Kingsville, 7 p.m.
It will be a meeting of two teams heading in opposite directions when North Alabama (4-1) plays Texas A&M-Kingsville (2-3). UNA has won three consecutive games, while the Javelinas have lost three in a row.
Since allowing a total of 61 points in their first two games, the Lions have recorded two shutouts and allowed only one touchdown over the past three games.
“We have improved tremendously on the defensive side,” UNA coach Bobby Wallace said. “It’s been a combination of a great job of coaching by our defensive coaches and the fact that our young guys are developing. We were so young and inexperienced to start the season, but our guys have already come a long way.”
Samford vs. The Citadel, 2 p.m.
Samford (4-1, 2-1 Southern Conference) will try to avoid a letdown after losing for the first time this season and missing out on a chance to take sole possession of first place in the league.
“(Last week) could have been a big game for us, but it wasn’t,” Samford coach Pat Sullivan said of the Bulldogs’ 35-16 loss to Georgia Southern. “But I still like this football team. I think out attitude is good.”
The Citadel (3-2, 2-1) has lost two in a row since starting the season 3-0. The Citadel is averaging 308.2 yards per game on the ground and only 88 yards passing.