The Valdosta State Blazers suffered their first loss of the 2010 season this past weekend when they fell to their conference rival Delta State 27-23.
This week, the Blazers prepare for a new opponent in the winless Southern Arkansas Muleriders.
Valdosta State leads the all-time series 11-3 and is currently riding a 10-game winning streak against the Muleriders, which dates back to 1995. Last season, VSU held SAU to just 32 yards of total offense on their way to a 32-7 route of the Muleriders.
This weekend will mark the first home game of the season for the Muleriders, as they opened their season with three straight road contest.
Both teams will enter this weekends contest with an 0-1 record in conference play, as last weekend SAU was blasted by third ranked North Alabama in their conference opener.
Larry Dean entered the 2010 season needing just 95 tackles to break the all-time tackles record at Valdosta State University.
After three games Dean has helped guide the Blazers to a 2-1 record. Dean now needs just 48 more tackles to break the record, which is held by former Blazer and Atlanta Falcon great Jessie Tuggle.
“I didn’t even know that,” Dean said. “I’m just doing what the team is asking me to do. I am just playing my role and just getting to the ball and being part of the swarm. That is what we pride ourselves on, just getting to the ball.”
Despite the loss to Delta State this past Saturday, Dean did not miss a step. The Tifton, Ga. native recorded a career best 19 tackles, a performance that earned him the Gulf South Conference defensive Player of the Week.
Dean’s 47 tackles currently leads all Division II players, along with all FCS and FBS players.
“There might have been a word here or there about that,” Dean said. “But you know I don’t really keep up with that kind of stuff.”
Blazers hit the air for first time
This Saturday will mark the first time this season the Blazers will travel on the same day of a game, as they will fly out to Arkansas on Saturday morning before taking on the Southern Arkansas Muleriders Saturday night.
This weekend will mark the first time 25 Blazers will make an airplane traveling trip.
Historically VSU has struggled with games in which they fly. Last season VSU was 1-2 when they flew on game day, with their loss coming at the hands of Ouachita Baptist.
“Every year that we take our first flight trip, we don’t play very well, especially early in the ball game,” VSU head coach David Dean said. “That is definitely a concern. We are trying to not make a big deal about it. We are just plugging along and hopefully our seniors and the 35 other guys that have made the trip before can help those guys who haven’t made the trip.’
Coaching staff looks for stability with Whitmire
Since being named the starting quarterback two weeks ago, redshirt freshman Brett Whitmire has had his good and bad moments.
Against Newberry College, Whitmire recorded three passing touchdowns and a rushing touchdown, as he led VSU to a 45-17 victory.
This past Saturday was a different story as Whitmire committed three turnovers in his first collegiate home start, one of which came inside the Delta State 10-yard line. After the game, Whitmire was visibly upset with his performance.
“I thought he played good actually,” David Dean said. “He completed eight of his first nine balls and one of those was a throw away when we missed a protection. I just told (Brett) to go out and relax and it is not your fault; it isn’t anyone’s fault.”
VSU head coach David Dean is confident that his young quarterback will bounce back in a big way this week against the Muleriders, as he is looking for Whitmire to play more consistently.
“He needs to just go out there and play his game and not do more than what we ask him to do,” Dean said. “He has to make the right reads and make the right checks, throw the ball where it needs to go and basically just manage the football game.”
Muleriders struggle early
The Southern Arkansas Muleriders might be the perfect opponent for Valdosta State to use for a bounce back game.
Throughout their first three games of the season, Southern Arkansas has struggled, heavily.
The Muleriders have recorded just 23 points so far this season and have allowed 99 points– 48 of which came last week when SAU was crushed by third ranked North Alabama.
“Well defensively they are very good,” David Dean said. “They have a great defensive end in Cedric Thornton who gave us fits that year and he gave us fits the year before.”
The Muleriders are hampered by a weak offensive unit as they, the SAU offense, averages just 216 yards of offense per game, while their opponents average an impressive 335 yards per game.
On the season, Southern Arkansas has managed just 90 yards rushing, while managing just 560 yards passing. Quarterback Austin Civita is expected to make his fourth start of the season. Civita is completing just 56 percent of his passing on the season and has a total of 442 yards passing with two touchdowns and five interceptions.
“Offensively they are a very good football team. They give you a lot of different looks and they will come out in several different formations,” Dean said.
Harden leading with INT’s
Just three games into the 2010 season, VSU senior defensive back Stevie Harden already has three interceptions, which already ties the most interceptions by one player for anyone on the 2009 team.
“First of all it is just God and my coaches that put me in the right positions,” Harden said.
Harden has recorded an interception in each of the Blazers game this season, with his final interception being taken back for a touchdown.
“That was awesome,” Harden said. “I had never scored at the collegiate level. It felt pretty good.”
Since the season, VSU has intercepted eight passes with Harden leading with three, safety Harrison Drieling with two, and cornerback Matt Pierce and linebackers Joel Cain and Chris Pope each with one.