Breaking down the Jaguars, position by position, as Jackson State week looms _lowres

Advocate staff photo by HILARY SCHEINUK -- Southern quarterback Austin Howard hands the ball off to Malcolm Crockett against Alabama A&M, last season.

The Southern football team has been able to win in a variety of ways recently.

It started its current four-game win streak with its highest-scoring game against NCAA competition this season when it beat Arkansas-Pine Bluff 51-36 on Oct. 4.

It overcame a 20-point third-quarter deficit to beat Alabama A&M 35-34 a week later.

It came out of an open date to play its best first half of the season in bolting to a 27-0 lead and held off Jackson State 42-28.

Then last week it had trouble running the football but rode its passing game and its defense to a 28-21 victory against Alabama State.

Now the Jaguars goal in their game against Texas Southern on Saturday night in A.W. Mumford Stadium is to play their most complete game of the season as they continue their quest for a second consecutive Southwestern Athletic Conference West Division title.

“That’s exactly what coach (Dawson) Odums has been telling us,” wide receiver Justin Morgan said, “come together and put a whole game together; start strong, finish strong — that way you can come out on top without having to go down to the wire.”

Southern (6-3 and 5-1) is one game behind first-place Grambling as it tries to force a winner-take-all showdown for the West title in the Bayou Classic game against Grambling on Nov. 29.

Texas Southern, which looked like a West contender when it started 4-0, is 5-4 and 3-4 after losing its last three.

“We’re still chasing a complete football game,” Odums said. “You see it in spurts, but we want to be able to put four quarters together. I think we’re getting close.”

Odums noted last week’s game in which Southern forced four turnovers, but scored just 13 points off of those opportunities, moving backward on two of the ensuing possessions.

“Those are the steps I think we need to take in order to become a complete football team,” he said. “You must take advantage when you get in the red zone. You must take advantage when you get some turnovers.”

The Jaguars passing game came alive last week as Alabama State held it to a season-low 86 rushing yards. Austin Howard passed for 291 yards, a team total surpassed this season only by his 324 a week earlier.

“We have a complete offense that can stretch you from sideline to sideline and end zone to end zone,” Odums said.

The run-pass breakdown could be reversed Saturday because Texas Southern leads the SWAC in pass defense (196.3 yards per game).

“Believe me,” running back Lenard Tillery said, “all the running backs are hoping that’s what happens.”

Southern allowed Malcolm Cyrus, the SWAC’s leading rusher, to gain 185 yards and score two touchdowns even though he had just three second-half carries because of a foot injury. The Jaguars, though, allowed just 113 passing yards, a season-low against NCAA opponents.

A week earlier, Jackson State passed for 424 yards.

“We win ugly,” Odums said. “We give up big numbers in the passing game and figure out a way to win. We give up big numbers in the running game and figure out a way to win. Eventually we’re going to start putting it together where we’re going to eliminate big runs in the running game and eliminate yards in the passing game.

“It’s coming. We’re real close. I believe if you win the turnovers and you win the penalties and you win the effort, you’re going to have a chance to win football games no matter what the other stats say.”

The Jaguars have been outstanding in the return game, running back three kickoffs and one punt for touchdowns. The place-kicking has been erratic, but Greg Pittman overcame a missed field goal and two missed extra points to make three consecutive field goals that were crucial in the seven-point win last week.

“One of our best assets as a team is when the other team makes a big play and gets some momentum we don’t shut down like other teams would,” Tillery said. “We just keep fighting back until we get the momentum back on our side.”

Southern has plenty of momentum. The Jaguars are 4-0 at home this season and have won nine of their last 10 SWAC games home and away.

“They have a sense of urgency down there,” TSU coach Darrell Asberry said. “They know how to win at home. They have a ton of players on their team who know how to play in (big) games.”

As long as Southern keeps winning the games will be bigger and bigger.

“With these remaining games that we have,” linebacker Brian McCain said, “I’m looking forward to seeing how things are going to come together.”