For the second straight week, VSU made the trek into Arkansas. However, the Blazers left feeling much better about themselves than in the previous week as they ousted Ouachita Baptist by a 40-13 score. The win gives the team confidence heading into conference play but the biggest question coming out of Saturday; will Coach David Dean march out a different quarterback under center?
Senior Austen Roberts, who started every game of the season to this point, injured his throwing shoulder early in the game Saturday. His departure led the way for junior college transfer Cayden Cochran, who did not disappoint.
Cochran finished the game 20-29 passing for 424 yards and four touchdowns. The performance earned him Gulf South Conference Player of the Week.
“I thought the other 10 guys responded really well to me being out there,” said Cochran. “You could look in their eyes and kind of see they had confidence in me. Them having confidence in me helped me have confidence in myself and they backed me up out there.”
Heading into the first conference game of the season against West Alabama (5-1) Saturday, on a schedule which only has four conference games in total, it is still unknown whether Roberts will be healthy enough to play or Cochran will. Dean made it clear that if Roberts is healthy, he will remain the starter.
Given the lack of conference games, the first will no doubt set the tone for the rest of the season. Earlier in the season, Coach David Dean noted the importance of treating each game as a playoff game, and his squad looks to take that same mentality into Saturday, which also marks VSU’s homecoming.
“You don’t have very many conference games,” Dean said. “You only have four, so if you get behind and go 0-1 off the bat, you’re in a huge uphill climb. To put yourself in position to win a Gulf South Conference championship, you’re going to have to win the first game. We’re still in playoff mode; we’re treating it that way. This is the second round of the playoffs, last week was first.”
Last year, VSU lost a hard-fought, controversial game to this same West Alabama team. However, the Blazers were focused on them throwing the ball. This year, the “black swarm” of defenders from VSU will look to contain a rushing attack that ran for 264 yards last week and also ranks second in the conference in rushing offense.
“We’ve got to stop their quarterback. He’s the one that makes everything go,” Dean said. “They got a great running back but what they do is a lot of zone read type stuff. We have got to be able to contain him and not let the quarterback get loose. We got to make great reads, great keys, follow everything, not be too aggressive, let the play develop and make the tackles we need.”
On the other side of the ball, VSU will look for a repeat performance from last week that consisted of a balance attack on the ground and through the air.
Whether or not Cochran will start this game is yet to be seen, but he knows what the offense will have to do to be successful against a stout West Alabama defense.
“We’ll be able to do a little bit of (running and passing),” Cochran said. “They’re a good defense; were not going to be able to get anything free from these guys. We’re going to have to work for every yard we get so it’s going to be a mixture of both that we’re going to try to do, so that’s how we’re approaching it.”