By: Chris Webb
If VSU’s game against West Georgia feels, ominous, it does.
“Basically this is our first playoff game,” head coach David Dean said.
Valdosta State and West Georgia have been rivals for over 30 years and this Saturday, at 2 p.m., another chapter will be added to the storied rivalry.
Asking around at practice, players and coaches will give one answer about this year’s matchup against in state rivals UWG: it’s a must win.
“We feel like we are going to have to play six straight weeks of playoffs. If we win those then we should be sitting in a position to advance,” Dean said.
Valdosta State (2-2, 0-2) had a bye last week after falling out of the Top 25 following a crushing last second loss to No. 5 University of North Alabama two weeks ago.
UWG (5-0, 1-0) enters the week ranked No. 21 after getting off to its best start since the 2000 season which saw the team finish (10-2), and eliminated VSU from that year’s playoffs.
This will be the 31st matchup between the two Gulf South Conference foes in a game that has garnered the nickname “Battle for the Peach Basket.”
“This series and winning that peach basket is huge for us each year,” coach Dean said “Right now it’s on display in our office and that’s where we want to keep it.”
The Blazers have dominated the series going (21-9) overall with UWG’s last win coming in 2011, which coincidentally was the last time this game was played in Valdosta.
After a two-year hiatus, the battle has finally returned to Valdosta and seems to have VSU players a little more excited than normal.
“Now we finally get to have the home crowd behind us,” junior running back Cedric O’Neal said. “With the students and families cheering for us, that crowd is going to give us some early momentum.”
However, coming off losses to UNA and Delta State already, VSU cannot afford another conference loss if it hopes to make it back to the playoffs.
The Blazers’ defense has only allowed 3.1 yards per carry and will look to continue that success this weekend against a Wolves offense averaging nearly 260 yards a game on the ground.
UWG running backs Seth Hinsley and Brandon Lucas have combined for over 700 yards and eight touchdowns on the season.
If the “Black Swarm” is able to limit the rushing attack once again, it will force UWG into throwing the ball, something it hasn’t done much of this year. The Wolves attempt the second fewest passing attempts in the GSC with only 17 per game.
The few times UWG quarterback Dallas Dickey has been put into passing situations this season, he has often looked for his big, 6 foot 3 inch junior receiver, Shaq Hall.
Hall’s size could play a problem against a VSU secondary that has looked shaky at times this season giving up close to 290 passing yards a game.
Dickey is also fully capable of beating the defense with his legs as the Blazers found out last year when he had 122 yards in the Wolves losing effort.
Look for the VSU defense to put on the pressure all game in hopes of the junior quarterback making a mistake.