Something to prove: No. 15 Blazers visit Golden Bears after Week 2 upset

·8 min read

Sep. 17—This story has been updated to reflect the correct kickoff time. It was originally reported inaccurately that the game was scheduled for noon Saturday. The game between Valdosta State and Miles College kicks off at 7 p.m. ET

VALDOSTA — Coming off of a stunning 45-40 loss to unranked Virginia Union last week, the No. 15-ranked Valdosta State Blazers (1-1) are ready to move on.

The Blazers travel to Fairfield, Alabama to go toe-to-toe with the Miles College Golden Bears (0-2) Saturday for their first road game of the season.

"It's the first time that we as a program have traveled anywhere together so it's kind of new," VSU head coach Tremaine Jackson said. "We haven't had any issues so far. Everything has been seamless but I'm ready to leave town. I'm ready to go get on the road.

"People always talk about bringing guys together. On the road and on that bus is where you can get together for hours and hours and hours at a time. We don't get on the luxury of getting on a flight for 30 minutes, getting up and down. We'll take a five-and-a-half hour bus trip and we'll do some things as a football team this week. ... We want to get on the road. To be a successful football program, you have to win on the road so we welcome that challenge. We don't run from that at all."

After last week's game, Jackson admitted his team was shocked after giving up 45 points and 305 yards rushing in their first non-conference early season loss since 2017.

During his media availability Wednesday afternoon, Jackson said he and his coaching staff hit a bit of a reset button in practice this week to get back on the same page.

"They've been back to normal," Jackson said. "One thing we talked about is win, lose or draw, we've got to move on. In Sunday's meeting, we moved on. We've got another really talented team in Miles, but our players have had two spirited practices thus far. It's obvious what we've got to get fixed and they know that. We know that as coaches. We just went about the business of getting it fixed. We put training wheels back on our guys, just to kind of use the analogy of we're still new and everybody feels like we've been here for a long time. We're still new and our guys weren't ready to ride. We just put the training wheels back on and we think that'll help us too.

"Just back to the basics. When you have an older football team, a really experienced football team like we have here now, they're still some guys that haven't played so you kind of give some freedoms to your team on things that you wouldn't normally do. So, we went back to the basics and treated it as though nobody has ever played for us and I think that's worked out well for us this week."

Despite outgaining the Panthers 518-391, the Blazers struggled mightily to contain the Panthers on the ground. Sophomore Jada Byers gouged the Blazers for 283 yards and three touchdowns on 29 carries.

Senior quarterback Ivory Durham went 34 of 56 for 314 yards and five touchdowns last week — posting career-high in completions, attempts and touchdowns.

Playing from behind played a role in the high number of passes thrown as the Blazers cut an 18-point fourth quarter deficit to five with 1:38 remaining. The Blazers ran 91 plays to the Panthers' 56.

Senior running back Jamar Thompkins had a productive night with eight carries for 110 yards along with five catches for 53 yards with a touchdown. Graduate student B.K. Smith led the Blazer receiving unit with eight catches for 88 yards and three touchdowns — two of the scoring grabs coming in the fourth quarter.

Jackson believes his team is eager for the opportunity to show up better this week on both sides of the ball.

"Everybody wants to prove that that's not who we are," Jackson said. "Defensively, they're not a 45-point defense. They're not a (305 yards) rushing defense. Offensively, we could've scored more than 40 points. We stopped us from scoring more than 40 points and they want to prove that that's who they are. The special teams woes that we had, that's not who we are. It's been spirited because we get another opportunity to prove that's not who we are."

Miles College comes into Saturday's contest looking for their first win of the season after being shut out by West Alabama 31-0 last week.

The Golden Bears were outgained 590-161 against the Tigers.

Offensively, the team couldn't get much going as they only managed 10 first downs and were abysmal on third down — going 1 of 16.

Defensively, the Golden Bears gave up 25 first downs — 18 of which came on pass plays.

When asked what he's taken from film on the Golden Bears, Jackson said he saw something that jumped off the screen immediately.

"They've got athletes," Jackson said. "Everybody's got them. On every level, everybody's got good athletes — especially skill guys. You've really got to look at teams these days and the line play is normally where the difference is. When you talk about guys that can run, they're everywhere. We can go down to the gas station and find three guys that can really run now. Miles has a bunch of them. They've got a kick returner (Jaylin Peterson) — people are crazy for kicking him that football. We turn on the film and see a bunch of good athletes running around on their football team."

Jackson also referenced Miles' season-opening loss to Alabama State; a game that saw them fall down 21-0 in the first quarter but held their opponents scoreless the rest of the game in a 21-13 loss.

"They've had some woes too, but when you watch the tape, you realize they should've beat Alabama State," Jackson said of the Golden Bears. "You realize they had a couple miscues last week against West Alabama. We want to make sure we're clicking on all cylinders because we're still trying to figure out who we are as a football team and that's the beauty of the month of September; you can't fall behind, but you do get an opportunity to see who you are as a football team and we're still figuring that out."

Against Virginia Union, the Blazers converted 8 of 16 opportunities on third down but failed to convert on fourth down, going 0 for 5. After two productive opening drives to start the game, the Blazers failed to find the end zone and had to settle for a pair of Estin Thiele field goals.

Not coming away with touchdowns on those drives, Jackson felt was costly later in the game.

"Offensively, we're averaging 38 points so when you're averaging over 35 these days, you should be winning," Jackson said. "What's crazy about the offense and what they want people to know is that we stopped us from averaging 50 points a game. You go back and look at our first game, we had some self-inflicted things happen. You look at last week, we had some self-inflicted things happen.

"You just look at the first two series of last week's game, it should've been 14 instead of 6. We caused it not to be 14, so we left eight points on the board. We get those eight points, maybe we win 48-45. We're looking at those things holistically and everybody needs and wants to get better."

The poor defensive performance, in particular, raised some eyebrows last week. The Blazers never found their footing after an impressive finish in the second half against Keiser in Week 1.

In the preseason, Jackson identified improving the team's rush defense as his top priority in his first season after the team was exposed there in its losses to West Florida in the regular season finale and Ferris State in the national championship game.

Heading into Week 3 against Miles College, Jackson admits the defense has much work to do to reach the level he'd like to see.

"Defensively is where we've got the steepest curve after the rushing yardage that happened the other night," Jackson said. "That's a big no-no for us, so defensively, we've got to clean that up. ... We inherited a not so good rush defense, so we've got to get that fixed. We've been talking about getting that fixed since I walked in the door here. I think we know what to do to get it fixed. We've made some personnel changes. We know what we signed up for, so we've got to go play defense."

No. 15 Valdosta State and Miles College kickoff Saturday at 7 p.m. Eastern Time.

Shane Thomas is the sports editor at the Valdosta Daily Times.