Southern and Jackson State got back to work Monday.
Both teams had open dates last week before resuming a game-week routine in preparation for their game Saturday night in Jackson, Miss.
The open dates came at a logical time for two long-time rivals whose match-up is always one of the highlights of the Southwestern Athletic Conference schedule. The rivalry was enhanced when the Jaguars and the Tigers met for last season’s SWAC championship and needed two overtimes before Southern came out on top 34-27.
The Jaguars worked Tuesday through Thursday of last week before giving the players the weekend off.
“Everybody is well rested,” Southern tackle Dewayne Houston said after practice Monday night. “We had a good weekend. It was a good practice today.
“The bye week is usually kind of like a midterm. We look at how we did for the past few games and see what we have to do to get better.”
Coach Dawson Odums said the Jaguars used last week’s practices “to work mostly on us and get better at the things we do” before turning their attention to the Tigers on Monday.
Defensive end Arthur Miley said the Jaguars were eager to get back on the field.
“We were able to heal our bodies and tune up a little bit,” he said. “It helps your legs. You have a little time to just sit back and look at a little film and get mentally better at the game.
“Last week it was good to relax but we want to get back out here full tilt.”
Miley said the defense’s goals were “the same as all season — stop, the run, tackle and make plays when they’re there.”
One of the Jaguars’ primary goals heading into the season was to improve their run defense, but they rank eighth in the SWAC against the rush (204.9 yards per game). Southern also ranks eighth in pass defense (220.9) and scoring defense (37.1 points per game) as well as last in total defense (449.0).
“We’re never satisfied,” Miley said. “We feel like we can get better at all aspects of the game, especially stopping the run.”
The offense ranks better statistically as it is third in scoring (32.1) fourth in rushing offense (186.1) and total offense (407.0) and sixth in passing offense (220.9).
“For us it’s mainly our tempo, keeping up a good pace,” Houston said. “We’re trying to keep a fast tempo and be a more explosive offense.”
JSU returned to the practice field after working just Tuesday and Wednesday last week before taking a break. The Tigers were juggling football and semester mid-terms, something the Jaguars did a week earlier.
“The bye week really came at the right time for us,” JSU coach Harold Jackson said on the SWAC weekly coaches teleconference. “We were tired and needed a break. We tired to get healthy on the offense and defensive lines. That’s where we’ve been having problems.”
The Tigers, who lost to Arkansas-Pine Bluff in the 2012 SWAC title game, are just 1-3 in the league. This is their first season under Jackson, a former New Orleans Saints assistant.
JSU is tied for third in the SWAC East, trailing Alabama State (3-2) and first-place Alcorn State, which is 4-1 after a 40-25 victory against Texas Southern last Saturday.
The Tigers bye came after an especially bitter loss when JSU lost its Homecoming game to Mississippi Valley State 27-23. The Delta Devils are coached by Rick Comegy, who JSU fired during the offseason in the wake of its consecutive losses in the SWAC title game.
“The attitude has been pretty good,” Jackson said. “We went out last week and they looked fresh because they had a couple of days to relax and get their legs back. We should be in pretty good shape coming back.”
Texas Southern’s loss to Alcorn dropped it to 3-2, a half-game behind the Jaguars in the West. Grambling improved to 5-0 by beating Mississippi Valley 63-39. Prairie View won its third straight to even its conference record, a half-game behind Texas Southern.
At Monday’s practice, the Jaguars were the deepest they have been perhaps all season. In the wake of several other players being reinstated and returning to health, Southern got good news on three more players.
Nose tackle Jaylen Jordan has been cleared academically and is expected to play Saturday as is running back Tyre Bracken, who practiced for the first time since injuring a shoulder last month. Quarterback Deonte Shorts, who has a groin injury and has missed the last four games, returned to practice and has been cleared to play.
Linebacker Javon Allen, though, is expected to miss the rest of the season because of hand surgery he underwent last month.
Follow Les East on Twitter @EastAdvocate.