If someone is going to deny Southern a third consecutive Southwestern Athletic Conference West Division title, that team is probably going to have to score an awful lot of points when it faces the Jaguars.
Southern has scored 100 points in its first two SWAC games, splitting the total evenly between its 19-point win at home against Jackson State on Saturday and its 37-point win nine days earlier at Mississippi Valley State.
That certainly doesn’t mean 50 points is going to be the norm. Valley is one of the least talented teams in the SWAC, and Jackson State, though more talented than its fellow Magnolia State team, has looked like a lost group since Harold Jackson replaced Rick Comegy as head coach before last season.
Nonetheless, it’s obvious the Jaguars are going to be extremely difficult to defend. It’s not just the point totals or the 675 yards they accumulated against JSU; it’s also the comfort with which they have moved the ball through the air and on the ground.
They wanted to get the running game going against Valley. They did so right away: Lenard Tillery rushed for touchdowns on the first two series, and Southern used the run on three-quarters of the plays on those drives.
They wanted to get the passing game going against JSU, and they did: Howard threw for more yards in the first half (336) than he did in any game last season, when he was the SWAC Freshman of the Year.
But they also ran it: Tillery gained 135 yards, and six of the seven touchdowns came on the ground, equally divided among Tillery, Howard and Malcolm Crockett.
The wide receivers are the deepest position group on the team, but they were relatively quiet in the first two games, starting with the 62-15 loss at Louisiana Tech, except for an 89-yard flanker pass from Willie Quinn to Randall Menard against Valley.
But against JSU, Quinn turned in his first 100-yard receiving game and his first receiving touchdown; Menard was a frequent target; and Mike Jones chipped in a 44-yard catch-and-run.
The tight ends got involved as Montrell Jones caught three passes and Tillery and Crockett combined for five catches and 101 receiving yards.
Of course Southern wouldn’t be able to run the football or throw it as well as it has unless it was getting good play up front, and so far the offensive line seems the equal of its counterparts at the skill positions.
The Jaguars have had more than enough offense to win their first two SWAC games, but there may come a time when they will need a comparable amount just to get by.
The defense remains a work in progress. Inexperience in the secondary was already a concern before cornerbacks Jamar Mitchell and Ki-Jana Curtis got hurt and nickelback Rhaheim Ledbetter was declared academically ineligible.
Mitchell and Curtis should be back sooner rather than later, but Ledbetter’s return is uncertain.
One thing that is certain is that linebacker Demetrius Carter won’t be back. The senior who led the team in tackles last season underwent season-ending Achilles surgery last Friday to repair a tear suffered against Valley.
So the defense will be challenged by the better offenses in the SWAC, but no more so than the seven remaining SWAC opponents’ defenses will be challenged by Howard, Tillery, Quinn, Menard, Crockett and Co.
“We have so many weapons on offense,” linebacker Daniel Brown said. “Wherever we go with the ball, we can do pretty much whatever we want to do. There are six or seven wide receivers. You haven’t even seen some of them yet. There are four or five running backs really capable of running the ball, and our offensive line is monstrous.”
The Jaguars visit No. 7 Georgia on Saturday, and it wouldn’t be surprising if the Bulldogs spend more time this week preparing for their game against Alabama in two weeks than they spend looking specifically at Southern.
But that’s OK for the Jaguars, because the only thing that matters is how they match up against their remaining SWAC opponents.
The early returns suggest that they — especially their offense — will match up quite well.
Follow Les East on Twitter: @EastAdvocate.