Texas Southern to lean heavily on QB, defense in 2017

August 26, 2017 GMT

Texas Southern gets an early start for coach Michael Haywood’s second season.

The Tigers will lean on an experienced defense and quarterback Jay Christophe, who returns after an injury to his anterior cruciate ligament last year, against Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference opponent Florida A&M on Saturday in Tallahassee, Fla.

TSU was third in the Southwestern Athletic Conference in total defense last year, giving up 27.4 points per game, and looks to build on that effort.

“The greatest strength I think is that front seven,” said Haywood, who went 4-7 in his first year at TSU.

The unit enters Saturday’s game led by linebacker Sean Jones, an All-SWAC first-team preseason selection, who recorded 77 stops and three sacks a year ago. Despite five starters returning, Jones will lead a relatively young group of linebackers.

The Tigers’ secondary will also challenge a Rattlers unit that fielded a middling offense last season. The group is spearheaded by leading tackler Archie Rice (84 tackles) and Dondre Dobbins, who had a team-high three picks.

Offensively, Christophe is a dual-threat playmaker who coaches hope will be the spark plug on a team that failed to close out games late.

“We lost a lot of games in the fourth quarter,” Haywood said. “I think we lost four games by less than a touchdown in the fourth quarter.”

The exact math adds up to four of the seven losses by a combined 19 points, and in each of those games, a crucial fourth-quarter touchdown was scored by the opponent.

Christophe is joined by six offensive starters, including running back Brad Woodard, a junior who returns after leading the team in rushing with 515 yards and three scores last year. Christophe’s main receiving targets likely will be Tracy Johnson and Malik Webb.

Like TSU, Florida A&M returns several players from the MEAC’s best pass defense, highlighted by cornerback Orlando McKinley and safety Terry Jefferson. Still, as a unit, the defense was one of the worst at stopping the run last year despite the emergence of defensive linemen Calvin Darville and Elijah Price.

Eight starters return from last season’s offense, led by redshirt sophomore quarterback Ryan Stanley - although junior college transfer Vincent Jefferies is expected to see time in certain situations.

Up front, offensive linemen Osman Aguilera, Obinna Nwanko, and Loubens Polinice received conference preseason honors and will look to give Stanley time against the Tigers’ pass rushers while opening running lanes for Darville and Price.

Florida A&M made a habit of scheduling “money games” to open their season. For the first time under coach Alex Wood, they open against a more manageable non-Football Championship Subdivision opponent in TSU.