HOUSTON — Southern’s offense was second in the Southwestern Athletic Conference in scoring 51 touchdowns during the regular season.
On Saturday night in the SWAC title game against Alcorn State, the Jaguars offense couldn’t outscore its own special teams.
The Jaguars struggled to put together any consistent offense in being held to a season-low 268 yards in a 38-24 loss to Alcorn State at NRG Stadium.
Southern’s rushing game was held to 108 yards, while freshman quarterback Austin Howard completed 15 of 30 passes for 152 yards.
He completed only one pass for 5 yards in the first half.
“We tried to establish the running game early because that is what we hang our hat on and that is what got us here,” Southern coach Dawson Odum said.
“We had opportunities but just didn’t cash them in. This game had the making of coming down to a fantastic ending, but we didn’t do enough to get it to that point.”
What kept the Jaguars in the game was special teams.
Fourteen of the Jaguars points came with Willie Quinn returning a punt for an 86-yard touchdown and Dennis Craig returning a blocked punt for a 9-yard score.
It was one of two blocked punts on the day by Southern’s Mason Ceasar.
“They helped us stay in the game,” Odums said. “The first one we were able to get seven points on the block.
Every time it seemed the Braves were about to pull away, the Jaguars special teams made a play.
Quinn’s long return got the Jaguars within a touchdown in the second quarter. It was his third return score of the year.
The blocked punt tied the game at 24 in the third quarter.
“It was really just individual effort,” Odums said. “These guys just come to play, and they play with great energy on special teams.”
The second blocked punt was returned to the Alcorn 22, but the Jaguars were unable to move the ball much farther, with the drive stalling when Malcolm Crokcett was stuffed for a 2-yard loss on fourth-and-1 from the Alcorn 13.
“It would have been nice to scoop and score that last one, but I was very pleased with the effort they gave on special teams,” Odums said. “That was one of the drives we didn’t get any points.”
Alcorn’s Will Thomas led the charge for the Braves defense with nine tackles and was the game’s defensive most valuable player.
“We knew coming into the game that Southern was a heavy running team,” Thomas said. “So we put all our effort into trying to stop the run and make them a one-dimensional team.
Southern running back Lenard Tillery was held to 55 yards on 14 carries, while Crocket ran for 21 on eight attempts.
Southern did not get a first down until its fourth drive in the closing seconds of the first quarter.
The offense had the ball for only 22 minutes, 55 seconds, and could convert only three of 13 third downs.
The only drive the Southern offense was able to put into the end zone was at the start of the third quarter.
“After halftime, we tried to spread it around more,” Odums said. “I thought they did a nice job with tempo.”
Howard had five of his 10 completions and 72 of his 152 yards on that one drive, which ended in a Crockett 2-yard touchdown.
Outside of that drive, however, Howard was just 10-of-25 for 80 yards.
“We made some adjustments, but we didn’t do enough,” Odums said. “(Howard) is going to be great. The good thing about him is we have him for three more years.”