Southern has had an unusually large number of comings and goings during the first six games of the season.
A lot of players have gotten injured and several have returned. Several players have been withheld from playing while awaiting academic certification and a few have returned.
The Jaguars have played a road-heavy schedule to begin Southwestern Athletic Conference play as their game at Alabama A&M on Saturday will be their third road game in four conference games.
So it’s been a challenging start to the season, but Southern (3-3, 2-1) can head into its first of two open dates in pretty good shape if it can beat the Bulldogs (2-4, 1-2) and establish its first winning streak of the season.
“It’s our seventh game in a row so I’m quite sure some guys could use a break,” Jaguars coach Dawson Odums said, “especially some of these guys that have been banged up and are just getting back. We understand that before we get to that point we have to take care of business up at Alabama A&M.
“I know it’s a football team that’s played a lot of snaps, a tired football team, a team that’s eager for a break and it’s a much-needed break. When you play seven games in a row, mentally and physically you get drained.”
Southern played perhaps its most complete game of the season last week in a 51-36 Homecoming victory against Arkansas-Pine Bluff.
Austin Howard passed for a season-high 230 yards, Reggie Travis caught three touchdown passes, Malcolm Crockett and Jamarcus Jarvis returned from injury to join Lenard Tillery and rejuvenate the running back position, Danny Johnson returned a kickoff for a touchdown and made an interception that set up another and the defense allowed the fewest yards to an NCAA opponent this season (366).
“We’re still growing and that’s a good thing because I feel like every week we get a lot better is all aspects of the game,” Tillery said. “Hopefully we’ll keep growing as the season goes on and we’ll get a lot better.”
Southern got a boost last week when defensive backs Dionte McDuffy, D’Andre Woodland and Jaleel Richardson were reinstated. They hope that cornerback Kevin King will be reinstated in time for this game.
“I really think we’re starting to hit our stride,” Odums said. “Slowly we’re starting to get the pieces to this puzzle together that’s supposed to look like a Southern football team.”
The Jaguars have already faced three of the tops quarterbacks in the SWAC in Prairie View’s Jerry Lovelocke, Alcorn State’s John Gibbs Jr. and UAPB’s Ben Anderson. The Bulldogs use two quarterbacks in Jaymason Lee and Brandon Wells.
“Those first three opponents are wide open. They put their foot on the gas,” Odums said. “We played against probably the top three quarterbacks in the conference right off the bat. You look at it going forward and going down the stretch, are there any more quarterbacks like that?”
Southern showed significant improvement on defense, limiting UAPB to 77 rushing yards after allowing 410 to Alcorn.
“We can’t be surprised by anything,” linebacker Roshaud Turner said. “We’ve seen it all, from quarterbacks that can run, quarterbacks that can throw, dual threats. So we feel like we can be prepared for anybody.”
First-year A&M coach James Spady is a former Grambling offensive coordinator, who was tight ends coach at Nevada when he was one of three finalists to interview for the head coaching job at Southern after the 2012 season. Ultimately the Jaguars chose to remove the interim tag from Odums and name him the full-time head coach. Spady returned to Nevada for a season before taking the Bulldogs job.
He can relate to Southern’s familiarity with road games thus far. The Bulldogs are playing just their second home game of the season, the first coming last week when they lost to Grambling 38-28.
“It felt really good to play a home game and be in front of a crowd that wasn’t hostile,” Spady said. “The kids were fired up. It’s always a plus to be able to sleep in your own bed and be surrounded by your own folks.”
Odums said the Jaguars have emphasized winning a second game in a row this week. That would allow them to maintain control of their fate in the SWAC West entering the open date. Southern is tied with Texas Southern, a game behind Grambling.
“Once you get into October, you sit back as coaches and players and evaluate, ‘OK where are we at right now? Where do we stand? What have we got to do?’” Odums said. “They understand that if you win you’ve got everything in your hands. If you’re losing you’re expecting help from somebody else.”