ATHENS, Ga. — Realistically, September couldn’t have gone any better than it did for Southern.
Sure, it began with a lopsided loss (62-15 at Louisiana Tech) and ended with another (48-6 at No. 7 Georgia on Saturday).
But this month and this season were never going to be judged by the outcome of those games, which earned the Jaguars a cool $1 million combined.
That’s a big boost to Southern’s bottom line, and the football bottom line is looking pretty good, too.
That’s because the Jaguars sandwiched two Southwestern Athletic Conference victories — 50-13 at Mississippi Valley State and 50-31 against Jackson State in the lone home game to date — between those games against Football Bowl Subdivision foes.
Southern now gets an open date. It’s a week to heal, catch its breath, self-evaluate and gear up for what matters most — the heart of the SWAC schedule. The presumably biggest challenges — Alcorn State, Prairie View and Grambling — lie ahead, but the Jaguars won’t have to deal with any more FBS distractions.
After playing three of four on the road, the Jaguars now get three at home, three on the road and one at a neutral site.
Though the Tech and Georgia results don’t factor into whether Southern achieves its ultimate goal of winning the SWAC, they do have value looking forward. Each of the first four games are benchmarks for the first month of the season, and the games against the FBS opponents are the bookends.
How far has Southern come from the opening loss to the one Saturday in Sanford Stadium?
Well, there’s reason to believe it has come a good distance. A 24-0 first-quarter hole at Tech ballooned to 52-8 at halftime. But a 17-0 first-quarter hole against a much more talented Georgia team shrunk to 17-6 late in the second quarter before things got out of hand in the third.
Austin Howard turned in a poor performance against Tech, but even though his numbers weren’t much better against Georgia, his comfort level seemed much improved in a more hostile environment. Incompletions don’t usually reflect well on a quarterback, but Howard’s first two Saturday were instructive.
In both instances, no doubt eager to make something happen on such a big stage, the sophomore looked around, saw nothing worth pursuing and calmly and decisively chose to throw the ball away and move on. It was a subtle but not insignificant example of growth that if it continues will come in handy in SWAC play.
The defense gave up several big plays that caused the Tech game to get out of hand early, but it had several key stops that prevented the Georgia game from doing so. It contained Nick Chubb for three quarters and twice forced field goals when Georgia seemed headed to the end zone.
It’s fair to assume that Georgia — playing between games against Southeastern Conference rivals South Carolina and Alabama — let its mind wander a bit in the second quarter after bolting to a 17-0 first-quarter lead. And it was obvious that the Bulldogs made up their minds at halftime that they would put this one away quickly in the third, and they did just that.
But Jaguars linebacker Daniel Brown put things in perspective when he smiled and likened this juncture in this season to “lifting 350 pounds, then going back to 250.”
So, as October is about to begin, we know this: The Jaguars are in as good of position in the SWAC as they can be.
The outcomes of their non-SWAC games are meaningless, except to provide evidence that this team has grown appreciably through four games.
Coach Dawson Odums likes to talk about the importance of being successful in October to provide an opportunity for “a November to remember.”
If the Jaguars wind up being where they hope to be in December , then this September will be worth remembering.