The Valdosta Daily Times
When the Valdosta State Blazers went through a 23-day long break in game action last month, they got back to the basics in nearly every facet of the game, including in the secondary.
The Blazers got back to what they were taught throughout training camp.
“It wasn’t so much, ‘Lets put in something new,’ it was, ‘Lets get back to the coverage’s we put in during camp,’” senior cornerback Matt Pierce said. “We wanted to work those and make sure everyone knew their specific job and what to do.”
Since that break in action, the Blazers have faced three primarily run-based teams, including the triple-option attack of Carson-Newman, in the Division II playoffs.
But now, as the Blazers are just days away from their fourth-ever appearance in the Division II National Championship Game, the Blazer secondary is preparing for the passing attack of the Winston-Salem State Rams.
Despite entering Saturday’s game allowing just over 187 yards passing per game, the Blazers have been challenged in the secondary this season.
Playing a schedule that featured a heavy dose of run-first teams, Valdosta State allowed at least 300 yards passing in three games this season.
“Basically, we just got to read our keys,” safety Lance Holder said. “We got linebackers and a D-line that are going to handle the run; it is just us to worry about the pass.”
In the season-opening loss to Saginaw Valley State, the Blazers allowed 378 yards and four passing touchdowns to Cardinals quarterback Jonathon Jennings.
Then, the Blazers were able to limit their next six opponents to an average of 153.6 yards passing per game, although they did allow 232 yards passing to North Alabama, which entered the game averaging less than 100 yards through the air.
Following its 24-21 win over UNA, Valdosta State allowed 340 yards passing in a winning effort over rival Delta State, which entered the game averaging just 191 yards passing.
Two weeks later, the Blazers allowed a season-high 389 yards passing to Texas A&M-Kingsville.
Now after facing three run-first teams in the playoffs, and allowing just 114.3 passing yards per game during that stretch, the Blazers will face a Rams passing attack that features a 3,000-yard passer and has a combined 54 passing touchdowns this season.
“It’s been a while, so it will take some getting used to,” Valdosta State head coach David Dean said. “Thank goodness it isn’t the option, because we are sick of the option. But they do a great job. We are going to have to put pressure on the backfield. We are not going to be able to give them big plays.”
The big plays, as Dean referred to, have been the major downfall to the Blazer secondary this season. In fact, in the three games where they surrendered more than 300 yards passing, the Blazers allowed 13 passes of at least 20 yards in length.
In the win over Delta State, they allowed four pass plays of at least 20 yards, including a 75-yard touchdown pass on the Statesmen’s first play from scrimmage and a 70-yard touchdown pass two series later.
In the win over Kingsville, the Blazers allowed a season-long 94-yard touchdown pass on the Javelinas’ first offensive play.
“If we give up big plays Saturday, we are going to be in trouble,” Dean said. “We have to force them to make play after play, and force them to drive the football down the field.”
If the Blazers have one thing going for them this week, it’s the passing attack they’ve been facing each day in practice throughout the season.
Valdosta State’s offense is averaging 261.3 passing yards per game, but features three receivers with at least 49 catches and two receivers with over 900 yards receiving and 13 touchdowns each.
“To be honest with you, I think we have the best receivers in the nation,” Pierce said. “Going up against them every day, I think it really prepares us to go up against these receivers. The receivers we are going up against are real good, but I think if we eliminate the big plays we will be in a good position.”
Winston-Salem also has a three-headed monster in the receiving corps. Jahuann Butler leads the team with 58 catches for 1,167 yards with 12 touchdowns, while Jameze Massey has 56 catches for 1,156 yards with 14 touchdowns. Jamal Williams has 49 catches for 757 yards with 12 touchdowns this season.
Community celebration send off
Valdosta State fans are encouraged to attend a community send off for the Blazers today at 12:30 p.m. The celebration will be held outside the Education Building off Baytree Road.
Tickets on sale until noon
Pre-sale tickets for Saturday’s championship game remain on sale until noon today at the VSU Ticket Office. There are less than 300 tickets remaining. The VSU ticket office is located inside the P.E. Complex off Baytree Road.