Southern stuck to its game plan and didn’t provide any material for the Northwestern State bulletin board this week.
Now comes the football part.
The Jaguars (1-1) and the Demons (0-2) meet at 6:07 p.m. Saturday in A.W. Mumford Stadium, a year and a week after Northwestern thrashed Southern 55-14 in Natchitoches.
“Considering that they beat us pretty handily last year, I think we’ll get motivated to try to defend our home turf,” Jaguars coach Dawson Odums said. “It’s going to be one of those dogfights. They have a good team. We’ve got to play well. I think our guys will be mentally ready to go. I don’t expect it to be like it was last year.”
So far so good, at least in game-week interviews.
The Jaguars have shown nothing but respect for the Demons, primarily because they understand the importance of respecting opponents but also because Northwestern demonstrated what a public lack of respect can lead to last season.
Before that meeting, Southern linebacker Anthony Balancier referred to the Demons as “horrible” in a television interview, and the Demons players said that interview fueled their dominance.
“It motivated us a lot,” Demons defensive lineman Deon Simon said this week. “Every time we met with the coaches, they played it over and over. We’re going in with the same mentality.”
Southern has been careful to try to avoid a repeat of what appeared to be a mental disadvantage in last season’s matchup.
“This is a whole new year,” Jaguars offensive lineman Zach Brown said. “We have a new approach to this game. Coach Odums has made it clear that those types of situations don’t represent this team, so we make sure not to put ourselves in them.
“We’ve all grown. He knows we wouldn’t go out and disrespect another team like that.”
Just how much Balancier’s comments influenced the game is a matter of conjecture, but clearly Northwestern played with more passion than Southern did as it rolled to a 31-7 halftime lead.
“They were more physical than us and did whatever they wanted to do,” Jaguars cornerback Kevin King said. “They came out with more energy, and we came out flat. We’ve got to find something within us and come out with that kind of energy and play as hard as we can.”
The circumstances are different this year and not just because Balancier ran out of eligibility. Southern is at home this time, and it’s coming off a 56-14 victory last week, although that result did come against an NAIA school (Central Methodist). Northwestern is coming off a 70-6 loss at then-No. 10 Baylor last week, a week after losing to Missouri State 34-27 in its season opener.
“Obviously, we know that Southern has probably been looking forward to this game since last year,” Demons coach Jay Thomas said.
Last season the Jaguars were coming off a season-opening 62-13 loss at Houston and the Demons were coming off a 23-17 victory against Missouri State.
Northwestern quarterback Zach Adkins completed 22 of 34 passes for 331 yards and three touchdowns as the Demons totaled 554 yards and 30 first downs.
“They’re coming in here with a senior quarterback who understands their offense,” Odums said. “He’s comfortable. He makes the right reads and good decisions. He has skill talent around him. We saw last year that he understands exactly where he wants to go with the football.”
The Jaguars are expected to play two quarterbacks — Deonte Shorts and Austin Howard — as it has in the first two games. Neither has emerged as a clear No. 1, although Shorts is expected to make his third consecutive start. He played better last week than he did in a 45-6 loss at Louisiana-Lafayette in the opener and Howard did the reverse.
Last week, Southern rushed for 395 yards and Malcolm Crockett and Tre Bracken each had more than 100 yards.
“We’re not taking those guys lightly, because they’re a good football team,” Simon said. “We’re going in and sticking to our game plan and hope to come out with a win.”
This is the first time this season that either team is playing a fellow member of the NCAA FCS classification.
“We welcome the challenge of a good FCS football team coming to town,” Odums said. “We know what kind of team we’re facing. We understand how they handled us last year at their place.
“This game will give us a good gauge of what kind of football team we have going forward.”
This is Southern’s final nonconference game before it begins defense of its Southwestern Athletic Conference championship next week at Prairie View.
“You always want to enter conference play on a winning note,” Odums said. “You want to enter that part of the schedule having confidence in knowing what you have as a football program.”