Mother Nature has slowed down the Southern passing offense more effectively than most Southwestern Athletic Conference teams’ defenses have.
The Jaguars zipped through their first four SWAC games with one of the most productive passing games in the conference. Then the rains came: first in Houston against Texas Southern two weeks ago, then last week at A.W. Mumford Stadium against Alcorn State.
In both cases, the deteriorating conditions made passing far more difficult than normal, first in a 40-21 victory, then in a 48-7 defeat.
Quarterback Austin Howard said the conditions for the Alcorn game were the worst he has ever played in, “much worse than Texas Southern.”
The Jaguars actually completed a higher percentage of their passes the past two games than they did in their first four — 69.5 percent to 68.8 percent — but that’s partly because of the need to reduce the degree of difficulty under the conditions.
The more telling stat is that the average yards per attempt dropped from 11.3 yards to 7.0.
“It’s different in the rain and in a downpour,” coach Dawson Odums said. “We’ve played in some downpours where you can barely hold the football. It makes it tough.
“The ball gets heavy. It doesn’t travel as far, so it’s hard to throw it down the field. It just makes it tough, so you have to lean on the running game.”
That worked out fine against Texas Southern because conditions didn’t get really bad until the third quarter, after the teams had played to a 21-21 halftime tie.
The Jaguars ran on 31 of 35 second-half plays and netted 186 rushing yards while outscoring the Tigers 19-0. They finished with 305 rushing yards.
The run-heavy approach didn’t work so well against Alcorn State, which ran for a 78-yard touchdown on its first play and never relinquished the lead. As a 21-7 halftime lead grew and Southern’s need to gain bigger chunks of yardage at a faster rate grew, the conditions made anything less than the most basic passes all but impossible.
The Jaguars completed five of 18 passes for 40 yards, and their longest completion went for 13 yards.
“We weren’t able to use our better weapons, and our better weapons are our wide receivers,” Odums said. “We weren’t able to attack them, so it just turned into a running game.”
Southern wide receivers have averaged 4.5 catches the past two games after averaging 13 in the first six.
For the second consecutive week, the Jaguars turned to backup quarterback Deonte Shorts as conditions worsened because he’s a more effective runner than Howard.
“It was really wet, and I have really small hands,” Howard said. “I barely can grip the ball when it’s dry, so it being wet just made it 10 times harder for me. But that’s really no excuse for why we couldn’t throw the ball.”
Against Texas Southern, the Jaguars completed 11 of 17 passes for 72 yards with a long completion of 29 yards.
The only game this season in which Southern threw fewer passes than the 17 against Texas Southern and the 18 against Alcorn came in a 50-13 victory against Mississippi Valley State in Game 2. The Jaguars threw the ball just 16 times because they bolted to a 33-0 lead midway through the second quarter and coasted.
Southern hasn’t thrown a touchdown pass in either of the past two games. The only other games in which it didn’t throw a touchdown pass were against FBS opponents Louisiana Tech and Georgia. In its first four SWAC games, it averaged 2.5 touchdown passes.
The 40 passing yards against Alcorn were a season-low as were the 72 passing yards against Texas State at the time. The only other game in which the Jaguars passed for fewer than 100 yards was against Georgia (79). In their first four SWAC games, they averaged 345 yards.
It remains to be seen what the conditions will be Saturday in Pine Bluff, Arkansas, for the game against Arkansas-Pine Bluff. Early in the week, the forecast had rain passing through Friday, leaving a mostly sunny game day with a 10 percent chance of rain. The rain chances haven’t changed though the forecast now calls for a cloudy, windy day.
“At the end of the day, it’s not my call on how the weather is going to be,” Howard said. “So whatever hand we are dealt is the one we have to play.”
UAPB coach Monte Coleman said he’s busy analyzing film of the Jaguars, figuring out what has worked for other defenses and what hasn’t, then “adding a wrinkle.”
“I’m not counting on weather,” Coleman said. “I’m counting on us scheming them.”
Follow Les East on Twitter: @EastAdvocate.