Cayden Cochran loves having options.
As Valdosta State’s quarterback, he can distribute the ball to a variety of playmakers, all capable of making a huge gain or controlling a game.
“It’s great to have weapons like that,” he said. “It’s very fun being the quarterback in an offense like ours. We can put a lot of pressure on defenses and the coaches trust me to get the ball to the right guys.”
Those options include running backs Cedric O’Neal (Dublin) and Austin Scott (Hardaway), who each surpassed 1,000 yards rushing as freshmen last year. Receivers Seantavius Jones (Tucker), Regginald Lewis (Forest Park) and JUCO transfer Willie Downs have combined for 55 catches, 849 yards and eight touchdowns.
The Blazers (4-1, 2-1 Gulf South Conference) have scored at least 30 points in 12 consecutive games, but that wasn’t enough to keep them from having their 14-game winning streak snapped in a 49-30 loss to West Alabama last week.
The loss knocked Valdosta State from No. 1 to No. 12 in the Division II coaches poll heading into Saturday’s game at West Georgia (4-2, 1-1), but didn’t shake their confidence.
The Blazers were 2-2 last year before winning 10 consecutive games and the national title.
“The guys who were a part of the team last year, I heard them saying the right things after the game and after practice (earlier this week),” coach David Dean said. “We were in the same position last year. It’s just a matter of eliminating mistakes. It’s good so many of our players went through that last year, so they can relay that to the younger players.”
Cochran, who has thrown for 1,076 yards and 10 touchdowns, is searching for consistency. Despite their playmakers, the Blazers are 55th in the nation in total offense with 431.2 yards a game.
“Some drives we look like the Oregon Ducks,” Cochran said. “Then we’ll go three and out on some crucial drives. I’ve got to make the right reads, the right checks and the right decisions. We’ll get better as long as we keep striving.”
Payton Usher (Northgate) is 5-foot-7 and weighs 160 pounds, but Mercer coach Bobby Lamb knew right away he’d found his first tailback.
“If you walked into my office right now, you’d think he was the manager, that’s how small he is,” Lamb said. “I can tell you this. From Day 1, everybody on our team knew who our starting tailback would be because he has such a knack for running the ball.”
Usher, a redshirt freshman, is second in the Pioneer Football League with 592 yards and has helped Mercer (5-1, 2-1) rush for 254.5 yards a game, also second in the conference.
Lamb said Usher, who has three 100-yard games, has a slashing style with “a lot of speed.”
“He also has great hands out of the backfield,” Lamb said. “He can run the ball downhill and he can bounce it outside with speed. We’re glad we got him.”
Clark in a rush
SIAC officials aren’t sure if Clark Atlanta’s 591 yards rushing in Saturday’s 56-0 win over College of Faith set a conference mark because early records were poorly kept.
The Division II single-game rushing record is 719 yards, set by Coe College in 1971.
Jordan Dooley (Duluth) rushed for 156 yards, Antonio Ford had 86, Montavious Taylor (Carver-Atlanta) had 83 yards and two TDs, and Aaron Hayward added 66 yards in the win.
The Panthers (2-3), who didn’t attempt a pass, are averaging 271.6 yards rushing, 14th in Division II.
Around the state
Reinhardt (4-2) is No. 24 in this week’s NAIA coaches poll. … WR Ervens Oge (Pierce County) set LaGrange’s single-game receiving record with 141 yards on 10 catches last week. … Mercer leads the FCS in rushing defense (76.8 yards a game) and the PFL in total defense (303.7). … Clark’s Evans Joseph is the SIAC offensive lineman of the week. … Paine College is playing four club games this month in preparation for next year’s team, which will join the SIAC. … Georgia Southern’s Jerick McKinnon (Sprayberry), who moved from QB to fullback to rush for 198 yards and two scores, is the Southern Conference’s offensive player of the week. Kevin Ellison (Habersham Central), McKinnon’s replacement at QB, rushed for 135 yards and threw for 138 to earn freshman of the week.
Washburn 41, Fort Valley State 0
Bellhaven at Reinhardt, noon
Carnegie Mellon at Mercer, 1 p.m.
Point at Webber International, 1 p.m.
Valdosta State at West Georgia, 2 p.m.
Shorter at Florida Tech, 2 p.m.
Morehouse at Albany State, 2 p.m.
Berry at Hendrix, 2 p.m.
Clark Atlanta at Benedict, 2 p.m.
Virginia Beach at Georgia Military, 2 p.m.
Savannah State at Bethune-Cookman, 4 p.m.
Huntingdon at LaGrange, 6 p.m.