University of Southern Mississippi defensive coordinator Ton Pecoraro spent four years in Lorman, Miss., running the Alcorn State University defense for his then and current boss, Jay Hopson.
In 2014, Hopson brought his Alcorn State team to face USM at M.M. Roberts Stadium, and Pecoraro said he still can remember the feeling of anticipation coming into that game against the Golden Eagles.
“I know when we were at Alcorn, we had the opportunity to come here and play, and we got ‘em ready to play because it’s a great opportunity,” Pecoraro said this week.
Pecoraro came to Hattiesburg in 2016 when Hopson left Alcorn to take USM’s head football coaching job.
Saturday, the Pecoraro will be on the other sideline when another Southwestern Athletic Conference opponent comes to M.M. Roberts Stadium.
The Golden Eagles (0-1) will welcome Southern University (1-0) at 6 p.m.
“I know their head coach and about four other assistants over there extremely well, so I know (the Jaguars) are going to be an extremely well-coached football team,” Pecoraro said. “Southern has that opportunity now to come over here and play and they’re going to have them ready.”
Though Saturday will mark the first time USM and Southern have met on the football field, Hopson said his years in the SWAC created a familiarity with the Jaguars’ program and reputation.
“Southern is always, consistently, a nine-, 10-win football team,” Hopson said. “(Southern U. coach Dawson Odums) does an outstanding job coaching their football team and has our football team’s utmost respect.”
Southern, which claimed a 14-8 victory Sunday over visiting South Carolina State in Baton Rouge, La., will become the fourth SWAC football team to play at M.M. Roberts, joining the ranks of Jackson State University (1987, 2002), Alcorn State (2009, 2014) and Prairie View A&M University.
Hopson said he could not recall how his Alcorn teams had fared against Southern, but during his tenure in Lorman from 2012 to 2015, the Braves went 5-0 against the Jaguars, including four regular-season victories and a 38-24 decision in the 2014 SWAC championship game.
“They’ve always had a lot of playmakers. They’re a physical football team and we know we have a good football team coming to town.”
Hopson will look to get the Golden Eagles back on the winning track after USM dropped a 24-17 decision to the University of Kentucky Saturday in the season opener in Hattiesburg.
USM allowed only 254 yards total offense to the Wildcats, but turnovers, penalties and miscues thwarted the Golden Eagles.
“There’re two things to a coach,” Hopson said. “Wins and losses are definitely one thing, but you also, as a coach, you to look and see how your team performed. Are they competing? Are they tough? And as a coach, when they do that, you’re proud. Or at least I am. You saw guys who were competing for 60 minutes, they’re playing hard.
“We got down two scores, and it would have been really easy to sit down against a (Southeastern Conference) and say, ‘Well…,’ but we fought back, we scored, and we gave ourselves two or three chances in the fourth quarter with the ball to make a run at it … I’m proud of the way the guys played.”
Southern Miss redshirt junior quarterback Kwadra Griggs is scheduled to make his first career start for the Golden Eagles Saturday.
Griggs, who started the second half against Kentucky in lieu of sophomore Keon Howard, completed 15 of 26 passes for 222 yards and two touchdowns with no interceptions.
“He did a great job running our offense and getting the ball to the right people,” Hopson said of Griggs. “Kwadra is one of those kids who has a good, natural feel, he really does.
“I thought he threw the ball well. He did a good job running the ball and directing our team.”
Two Southern Miss receivers, redshirt junior Korey Robertson and redshirt freshman Quez Watkins, each topped the 100-yard mark in receiving yards. Robertson had seven catches for 111 yards and two touchdowns, while Watkins had four catches for 103 yards.
Southern netted just 297 yard total offense in its season opener, but got first-half rushing touchdowns from running back Devon Benn (27 yards) and quarterback Austin Howard (6 yards) to hold off S.C. State.
The Jaguars had the football on offense about seven minutes longer than the Bulldogs, and ran 74 plays to S.C. State’s 57.
“They can throw it and they can run it,” Hopson said of the Jaguars. “Austin Howard, their quarterback, does a great job. He’s a four-year starter, if I’m not mistaken, a guy who leads their ship and I just an outstanding football player.
“They have good running backs, good receivers, and up front, they play hard and tough. Again, we know we have a good team coming to town.”