It was a raucous celebration in the locker room at Choctaw Stadium in Arlington last weekend as the Texas Southern Tigers relished in their SWAC victory – a 35-31 nail-biter over Southern – that ended a 13-game on the field losing streak in conference play.
But the Gatorade was flowing way before then.
“It was amazing,” said TSU third-year coach Clarence McKinney, who just a week earlier had notched his first on field victory as the Tigers head coach. “I think the celebration started before we got to the locker room. As soon as the clock hit zero, we started the celebration. It’s been a long time coming.”
Indeed, it has been for a program that has been down for several years. But suddenly, the Tigers are looking at a two-game winning streak that began with a 69-0 stomping of NAIA Northern American during homecoming and continued this past weekend with the win over the Jaguars that was decided on running back Jacorey Howard’s four-yard touchdown run with 39 seconds remaining.
The Tigers (2-3 overall, 1-1 SWAC) hope to keep the moment going against West Division opponent Grambling State (2-4, 1-2). TSU hadn’t strung together consecutive wins since 2016 when they won three-straight games.
While McKinney is excited for what tasting victory can do for his program, he is mindful that there is still much work to be done.
“We are not satisfied,” said McKinney, whose team won a couple of games via forfeit during the abbreviated spring SWAC season. “Our goal isn’t to win one game in the SWAC. Our goal is to win the West and we feel like we still have an opportunity to be in the conversation.
“Nothing has really changed for us. We are putting our heads down and we are going back to work and we are trying to figure out what it’s going to take for us to win this week.”
That will likely fall squarely on the shoulders of freshman dual-threat quarterback Andrew Body, who has ignited a spark in the Tigers’ offense since taking over for Jalen Brown the week of the Rice game. His ability to make things happen with his arm as well as his legs have kept opposing defenses on their heels.
In the win over Southern, Body completed 28-of-35 passes for 338 yards, while rushing for 85 yards on 13 carries.
“When they made a quarterback change, that changed a little bit of the dynamics of their offense,” said Southern coach Jason Rollins. “With more of a dual-threat guy, you have to defend the whole field and the plus-one runs that he also does. So it was a good plan by them and he also executed it well.”
But forever the coach, McKinney sees the dynamic Body adds to his offense, but he also sees the things the true freshman can do better. Body ranks fifth in the SWAC in passing after completing 65% of his passes for 715 yards, one interception and no touchdowns. He also has ran for 214 yards and two touchdowns on 39 attempts in the four games in which he’s played.
“He brings an element to the game that a lot of quarterbacks don’t really have,” McKinney said. “He has the ability … he’s a true dual-threat quarterback. He just doesn’t have experience. But he is having a lot of fun playing, and as he learns… our team is growing more and more confident in his ability.”
McKinney also attributes the recent success of his program to what he calls his super seniors, those players who have been granted an extra year of playing eligibility by the NCAA due to the pandemic. He has watched that group really push to change the narrative surrounding the program.
“Those guys are the leaders of the team,” McKinney said. “They are determined to leave their mark on this program. They’ve done just a tremendous job of leading the young guys and showing them the way we do things. They want to make sure when they leave here that their legacy is part of something they started to be special.”
The next building block is against a Grambling State team that has struggled this season, while finding its way with a freshman quarterback.
“We are going against another tough opponent on the road,” McKinney said. “Defensively, they fly around, they create turnovers. Just a tremendous unit of causing confusion.
“Then offensively, they are kind of like we are. They are playing a freshman quarterback and they want to put him in a situation where he can be successful. I think it’s going to be a really good matchup.”