by Alex Welch:
The Valdosta State Blazers will travel to Rome, Ga. to face the Shorter Hawks on Thursday at 7:30 p.m. CSS will provide the coverage of this Gulf South Conference clash.
Shorter's transition to its new conference hasn't been an easy one. In two Gulf South games this season the Hawks have been outscored 90-7. Last week's defeat against West Alabama played out closer than the final score would suggest, as Shorter only trailed 14-7 going into the locker room at halftime. Another tough test awaits the Hawks in their first conference home game.
Now at 6-2 overall, the Blazers enter Thursday's contest riding a four-game winning streak, taking down three conference opponents in the last three weeks. Valdosta State is right on the cusp of cracking the Division II top 25 rankings, and with two games to go there are no signs of slowing down.
Valdosta State currently sits just half a game back in the conference standings behind West Alabama. Shorter holds a .500 mark at this point, but it will need to figure out how to handle its three remaining Gulf South games to even have a chance of avoiding a losing season. Let's take a look at what you should be watching for between these two teams when they go head-to-head.
1) In their 59-41 victory over Delta State last week, Valdosta State exploded for 624 yards of total offense, the fifth-highest total in the program's history. And that was against the 20th-ranked defense in Divsion II. The Blazers are averaging nearly 500 total yards per game, proving they can move the ball on just about any opponent right now.
2) Quarterback Cayden Cochran threw for 412 yards and five touchdowns while running back Cedric O'Neal carried the ball 33 times for 181 yards and two scores on the ground against the Statesmen. Valdosta State brings a balanced attack to the table each week, averaging 260.25 yards passing and 233 yards rushing.
3) Seantavious Jones was named the Gulf South's Offensive Player of the Week after he hauled in nine receptions for a ridiculous 210 yards and four touchdowns against Delta State. While Gerald Ford leads the team with 40 catches for 703 yards and nine scores this season, Jones isbuildinga nice rapport with Cochran and making a case for more targets going forward.
4) Valdosta state is converting 47 percent of its third-down opportunities, whileopponentshave only been successful on 37 percent of attempts against the Blazers' defense. The offense might stand out to everyone, but the other side of the ball is coming up big when needed. The Blazers made four-straight stops against the Statesmen in the second half of last week's matchup, all but putting the game out of reach as the offense continued to roll.
5) Daniel Anderson also received conference recognition this past week as he was named Special Teams Player of the Week. The senior kicker chipped in eight extra points and knocked down a 49-yard field goal while also averaging 47.3 yards on three punts. He can do it all.
6) Shorter only trailed by a touchdown at halftime against conference leader West Alabama. The Hawks unraveled in the second half as they were outscored 21-0 in the third quarter, ultimately losing 49-7. They possess the ability to hang with these Gulf South team's, though, as we saw glimpses of last week. Consistency is the key here.
7) Sticking with their previousperformance the Hawks held the ball on offense over 15 minutes longer than the Tigers. They need to keep the Blazers dynamic offense off the field Thursday, so winning the time of possession battle will be another vital aspect of their game plan.
8) The Hawks are averaging 274.4 yards rushing per game. Their offense hinges on pounding the ball on the ground. Bradley Moon leads Shorter with 133 carries for 692 yards and nine touchdowns. He only gained 2.4 yards per carry last week, but the junior back needs to keep seeing plenty of touches.
9) Quarterback Eric Dobson only completed four passes against the Tigers for a total of 46 yards. Defenses aren't going to worry about anything else but the run game with numbers like that. He's not going to take any game over with his arm, but the Hawks have to improve theirproductionthrough the air.
10) Shorter has converted 15 of 19 fourth-down attempts. Now is the time to keep up that type of aggressive play-calling. Keep themomentumon offense rolling by extending drives, using all four downs if necessary.
by Alex Welch: