Southern doesn’t have a football game this week, but next week’s game already has leaped to the forefront of everyone’s mind.
In fact, just moments after the Jaguars had beaten Alabama A&M 46-7 last Saturday, running back Lenard Tillery sounded as though a gag order had been lifted by coach Dawson Odums.
“As a team, coach Odums lets us know that we have to take it week by week and now that they’re the next team on the schedule we can actually talk about them,” Tillery said. “We can actually speak their name without getting run at practice.”
The name, of course, is Grambling — Southern’s annual season-ending opponent in the Bayou Classic in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. The game isn’t until Nov. 28, but this week’s open date serves to merely supersize Grambling week.
When Tillery went to his bank Monday morning, the first thing the teller brought up was the Bayou Classic.
“ ‘Ya’ll got Grambling in two weeks, huh?’ ” Tillery said, repeating the teller’s greeting. “It’s the game that everybody gets excited about. I heard somebody call it the Louisiana Super Bowl. The vibe it has is just electrifying.”
Defensive end Aaron Tiller said that everywhere he goes on campus, someone has something to say about the Bayou Classic.
“I feel like it’s part of my daily routine,” he said. “People have been talking about the Classic since after the Georgia game.”
The Jaguars played Georgia on Sept. 28, and they’ve played six games since them.
Tiller, a sophomore from Columbus, Ohio, said he learned of the significance of the rivalry from his brother, Traé, a former Jaguars nose guard.
“He said it’s the Ohio State-Michigan of Louisiana,” Aaron said.
Last season, Aaron played in his first Bayou Classic, which even the Buckeyes and the Wolverines would have had a tough time matching.
Southern prevailed 52-45 on the final play of a showdown for the Southwestern Conference Western Division title.
“The environment was electrifying,” Tiller said, “wonderful experience.”
Even though it’s technically not game week yet, when the players hit the practice field Monday, it was Grambling time.
“You can tell,” tackle Reginald Redding said. “Everybody is a lot more focused. Everybody is ready to come out to practice and work hard. Everybody gets real excited. Everybody knows it’s a big game, a big rivalry game.”
The Jaguars will complete three days of practice Wednesday morning, then take a three-day break before beginning their standard game-week routine Sunday.
“Everything is more intense. Practice is more intense, even (open date) practice is more intense,” linebacker Daniel Brown said. “It’s like, ‘We’ve got to beat them. It doesn’t matter what day it is; we have to go hard because we’ve got Grambling this week.’ ”
One of the ways the significance of the game is demonstrated is that both teams schedule an open date the week before the Bayou Classic, to increase their chances of being primed for the finale.
“Once you get to that open date before the Bayou Classic, you start thinking about the atmosphere of the game and how big it is,” wide receiver Mike Jones said. “It’s a fun game to play in.”
This year’s game doesn’t have the division title at stake like last year’s game did because the Tigers clinched the title last Saturday.
“I don’t think that will take away anything,” Odums said. “This is a natural-born rivalry. It’s two programs with great traditions, and I think this is why student-athletes choose the two schools — the opportunity to play in this game.
“You throw records out the window, you throw what’s at stake out the window. You want to win and that’s what it’s all about. I know they want to win and we want to win and it ought to be a great contest that both teams take the (open date) to get ready for.”
Now the players are free to look ahead to Grambling, like so many around them starting doing a while ago.
“This is the one everyone has been waiting for,” safety Dionte McDuffy said.
Mike Gegenheimer contributed to this report.