Southern and Mississippi Valley State expect their second game of the season to tell them a lot more about themselves than their first one did.
The Jaguars and the Delta Devils meet in their Southwestern Athletic Conference opener at Rice-Totten Stadium at 6:30 p.m. Thursday, just five days after they both were whipped by Football Bowl Subdivision teams in their respective season openers.
Southern lost at Louisiana Tech 62-15 and Valley lost at New Mexico (66-0).
“We got exposed in some areas,” Jaguars coach Dawson Odums said, “but you’d rather have that happen in a nonconference football game.”
Now comes the real deal.
“Everybody is going after the same pie,” Southern linebacker Demetrius Carter said. “We look at it as a playoff game. We need to win this game in order to be eligible for the playoffs. It’s a very important game to win.”
This game features two conference rivals who are on more equal footing with each other than they were with their opening opponents, although the Jaguars are two-time defending SWAC West division champions and the Devils finished last in the East the past two seasons.
“From a coaching standpoint, you can make a better evaluation (in this game),” Odums said. “It’s all about how we’re going to play more so than how they’re going to play.
“I think our guys are ready to play football. We didn’t play very well (against Tech). We’ve got an opportunity to put that behind us and taste victory and that’s what it’s all about.”
Valley coach Rick Comegy, who is in the second season of a major rebuilding job after a successful seven-year run at Jackson State, said his team will be better off for its trek to New Mexico, despite the lopsided outcome.
“It was a great learning experience,” Comegy said. “They were well prepared and they were able to adjust to everything that we did. We made some adjustment and assignment errors that held us back. That hurt us, but film is a great teaching tool and our alignments and assignments will be better from having played them.”
Southern expects its offense to be as good as any in the SWAC, but its performance in the opener didn’t suggest that. The offense managed just one scoring drive — the other touchdown came on Willie Quinn’s 100-yard kickoff return.
Austin Howard, the SWAC Freshman of the Year last season, completed just 12 of 20 passes for 95 yards and he threw two interceptions.
“This is his first time coming off a game where he played that badly,” Odums said. “Tech had a lot to do with that, but the good thing is he’s had time to look at it. He’s got to get better to perform up to the caliber that we expect.”
Running back Lenard Tillery said the opener was “a humbling experience” for a team expecting to compete for a conference championship.
“We just have to realize that we have a good football team, but it doesn’t matter if we’re the only people that know that,” Tillery said. “You have to go out and show the world what you have. You can’t just say this is what we have.”
This will be the Devils’ second consecutive SWAC game against the Jaguars, who beat them 44-13 in Mumford Stadium in Valley’s season finale last year. Southern went on to play in the Bayou Classic and the SWAC championship game.
The Devils led last year’s game 13-0 after one quarter before Southern outscored them 30-0 in the second quarter on its way to a 44-13 victory.
Odums said Valley “has a lot of new names on its roster” but a familiar one is quarterback Quantavius Peterson, who played the majority of the snaps among the three quarterbacks the Devils used in the game.
“Anytime you’ve got a returning quarterback, you like your chances offensively,” Odums said.
Peterson passed for one of Valley’s touchdowns and ran for the other in last year’s meeting. He had the most rushes (nine) among the Devils.
“We have to be very disciplined in our rush lanes,” Carter said, “and we’ve got to be smart dropping into pass coverage because he can run.”
Both teams have a chance to show an ESPNU audience that they’re better than the scores of their openers suggest.
“We’re eager to go out and show that we have a better brand of football,” Odums said. “But I think the fact that it’s the season opener in the conference is more motivating than playing on TV.
“All the goals that you’ve set and everything that you’re playing for is right there in front of you. We’ve got some things that we want to accomplish as a football team. Everything you want to achieve starts Thursday night.”
Follow Les East on Twitter @EastAdvocate.