Still elated from last week’s comeback rally yet the Blazers know they must execute early if they expect to tame the streaking Lions.
No. 11 VSU looks to build upon its 35-30 victory over West Georgia when they welcome conference foe, North Alabama, this Saturday.
This is the 37th all-time meeting between two of Division II’s more prestigious programs, combining for six national championships, 13 regional titles, and 15 Gulf South Conference titles.
Though this year’s Lions are not as talented as previous teams, the upcoming contest shouldn’t be anything less than the usual barn burner.
VSU squeezed out a 24-21 win over the Lions last season in Florence, Ala.
Incumbent quarterback Cayden Cochran will be the starter Saturday despite a tender right ankle which was aggravated during last game before backup Kaleb Nobles replaced him in a poised fashion.
Cochran and company are up against the top scoring defense in the conference, holding their opponents to 17 points a game on average.
The Lions defense returns nine starters from last season and is led by GSC tackle leader and Defensive Player of the Week, Tavarius Wilson.
On the other side of the ball, Blazer wide receiver Willie Downs was confirmed as ‘probable’ for Saturday after missing last week – he likely won’t be fully-healthy nonetheless his presence itself will spread out the field more in a favorable way for VSU.
UNA quarterback Luke Wingo has been efficient in six games after winning the starting job this past spring.
The sophomore has rushed for seven touchdowns and thrown seven along with only two interceptions for 878 passing yards.
Regardless of losing, during the last meeting Wingo had a sound game as a freshman finishing with 221 yards (17-31).
Dissecting the Black Swarm however will be his greatest challenge this season.
“We got to get our minds right here at practice and get excited,” linebacker Chris Pope, who is three tackles shy of Jessie Tuggle for second on career all-time tackles list, said. “I feel like that’s us this year. Last year we weren’t a big excited team, we play off emotion this year. When emotions run high that’s when we play well. It starts at practice then carries over to the game.”
UNA is led by Hall of Fame coach Bobby Wallace, who returned as head coach in 2012 (1988-1997), making his first visit back to Bazemore-Hyder Stadium with the Lions in nearly two decades this weekend.
Wallace is responsible for establishing UNA as one of the nation’s best as well as restoring West Alabama’s program during his tenure there (2006-2010) with a Division I stint at Temple in between.
“He’s a guy I respect tremendously,” Dean said. “We’re very good friends. We talk in the offseason quite a bit. He’s had a tremendous amount of success everywhere he’s gone. It’s been a long time since he’s been down here in Valdosta. It will be good to see him.”
Dean leads 5-1 in six meetings between the two accomplished head coaches.
Kick-off is set for 2 p.m.
Note: UNA leads VSU 20-15-1 in all-time meetings. VSU’s Chris Pope is 21 tackles shy of tying Minnesota Vikings linebacker Larry Dean for No.1 on all-time career tackles. Saturday marks the annual Zeta Tau Alpha Pink Out game.