Last week is history. For the Valdosta State Blazers there is nothing they can do about last week’s loss to West Alabama. Instead, the Blazers can only focus on the final six games of the regular season and make a push towards returning to the Division II football playoffs.
Today, the Blazers begin that push when they host the Edward Waters Tigers, a small NAIA team from Jacksonville, Fla., at Bazemore-Hyder Stadium. Kickoff is set for 7 p.m.
“I’m still thinking about the loss on Saturday, but we just need to realize that loss is behind us and we need to focus on what is ahead,” linebacker Ryan Smith said.
The Blazers and Tigers have met just once before, coming in 2009 when VSU handed the Tigers a 70-6 loss to end the regular season. The Tigers were 0-11 that season. This year, the Tigers enter their meeting with the heavily-favored Blazers with a 2-2 recor, the same record as VSU.
“I hope it gets out of hand, but I wouldn’t count on it,” Valdosta State head coach David Dean said. “They are a lot better football team than they were in ’09. Offensively, they are really scary. My goodness, they are scary on offense. They really do some things well.
“We are expecting a tough, close, physical football game,” Dean continued.
The Tigers are a run-based offense, much like West Alabama from a week ago and much like some of VSU’s opponents in the near future. The Tigers average 251.7 rushing yards per game, compared to just 115 passing.
Stopping the run is the primary objective for the Blazer defense this week after being embarrased a week ago when they allowed 332 yards on the ground to West Alabama’s offensive attack.
“The one thing that West Alabama hurt us on was the option, we didn’t play the option very well,” Dean said. “And these guys run the very same option as Georgia Tech and Georgia Southern run right now, and hurting people with. The problem you got is that you don’t see it all year long. You have one week to prepare for and it is not easy to do. It is very difficult to prepare for and you have to play assignment football and you have to trust that everybody else is going to do their assignment.”
The Blazers will be without several key players today. Wide receiver Gerald Ford, who leads the team with 25 catches for 446 yards and seven touchdowns, is out with a knee injury. Junior linebacker Jeremy Grable is out indefinitely with a bruised sternum. Sophomore Justin Williams, a Valdosta native, will start in his place.
Other players are said to have minor injures, although none are expected to miss the game except for Ford, Grable and freshman defensive lineman Cohen O’Neil, who has a broken bone in his foot.
Redshirt junior quarterback Cayden Cochran will start tonight for the Blazers. Cochran was taken out of last week’s game against West Alabama with a bruised shoulder, the same shoulder he separated in the week one loss to Saginaw Valley State. Cochran completed 7 of his 19 passes for 93 yards with a touchdown and interception prior to leaving last week’ game.
On the year, Cochran has completed 31 of 63 passes for 332 yards with three touchdowns.
Backup quarterback Graham Craig, who started VSU’s second game against Fort Valley State, replaced Cochran. He could see action today. On the year, Craig has completed 34 of 65 passes for 670 yards with 9 touchdowns, but has thrown five interceptions, including three in the second half last week.
The likelihood the Blazers use two quarterbacks is high. Since the start of the 2009 season, VSU has used at least two quarterbacks in the same game 22 of 35 times.
“I feel like if it was an issue, if I wasn’t prone to hurting my shoulder again, I don’t think it’d be an issue,” Cochran said. “With Graham being so good and being so talented and knowing everything, that just gives us another option. That is what we did Saturday (against West Alabama).”
The Blazers return to Gulf South Conference next Saturday, Oct. 6, with a visit to West Georgia in Carrollton.
Who: Edward Waters Tigers (2-2) at Valdosta State Blazers (2-2)
When: 7 p.m.
Where: Bazemore-Hyder Stadium
Last time: VSU won 70-6 in 2009
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