Southern plans the football equivalent of a working vacation during its open date this week.
The Jaguars began by giving the players a welcome day off from practice Monday, but they’ll be back on the field Tuesday, the start of three straight days of workouts.
“We’ve played seven games in a row, and we’re a little beat up,” Southern coach Dawson Odums said Monday. “We’re tired, and this is a much-needed bye. We’re going to get some work in, and we’re also going to get some rest. We’ve got five games left, and we’re going to make sure we’re a healthy football team.”
The Jaguars (4-3, 3-1 SWAC) visit Jackson State on Oct. 25. That starts a string of four consecutive games before their second open date, which comes before the regular-season finale against Grambling in the Bayou Classic on Nov. 29.
The coaches spent Monday analyzing the team’s play and figuring out ways to improve.
“We’re going to improve our strengths and fix our weaknesses,” Odums said. “We’re meeting to narrow down just what those are. I’m quite sure you’ll see a different football team coming out of the bye.”
Statistics show that most of the weaknesses have been on defense. Southern ranks last in the SWAC in yards allowed (449 per game) and first downs allowed (24.1). The high number of first downs allowed is largely a result of allowing opponents to convert 45.3 percent of their third downs, the worst percentage in the SWAC.
“We’ve got to play better on third down, and we’ll be all right,” defensive end Arthur Miley said.
Southern is second-to-last in red-zone defense, having allowed opponents to score on 90 percent (27 of 30) on their trips inside the Jaguars 20. Of those 27 scores, 22 have been touchdowns, the worst such ratio in the conference. As a result, Southern is second-to-last in scoring defense (37.1).
The defensive struggles have had an impact on the offense: The Jaguars’ inability to stop opponents more frequently has contributed to the team being second-to-last in time of possession (27 minutes, 52 seconds).
Southern has been pretty effective when it has had the football, ranking second in scoring (32.1). The Jaguars also have been fairly balanced on offense, ranking fourth in rushing (186.1), fifth in passing (220.9) and fourth in total offense (407). The passing game has benefited from Southern allowing just four sacks, tied with Alcorn State for fewest in the SWAC.
Special teams have been a mixed bag. The Jaguars have been exceptional on kickoff returns, averaging 32.1 yards per return, but they’re struggling with kicks. Their field goal percentage (57.1) ranks second-to-last, and their PAT percentage (80.6) is last.
Southern ranks first in fewest penalties per game (7.6) and fewest penalty yards per game (61.7). The Jaguars, though, had their most penalties (12) and penalty yards (82) of the season in Saturday’s 35-34 victory at Alabama A&M.
“Going into the bye week, we know we’re very talented and we have a lot of heart,” running back Lenard Tillery said. “But at the same time, we know we’re struggling with discipline right now, so I’m pretty sure this bye week we’re going to focus on discipline and eliminating the foolish penalties and dominating teams and not playing them close.”
Notes: WR Willie Quinn was named SWAC Offensive Player of the Week on Monday for his performance against Alabama A&M. He caught seven passes for 132 yards and had a 79-yard touchdown reception in the third quarter, which started a 21-0 Southern run to finish the game. … Odums said OL Zach Brown, who suffered a neck stinger in Saturday’s game and was taken to Huntsville Hospital to be examined, “is fine.”