Southern has a lot of playmakers on offense, but it has almost as many on the sideline as on the field.
A rash of injuries has led to different players taking on different roles virtually every week.
“We’ve got to find a way to get the ball to those guys that can make plays,” coach Dawson Odums said Tuesday at his weekly news conference. “Then when we get the ball to those guys they’ve got to make their plays. We’ve lost some players, but we’ve still got some players that can make plays.”
The Jaguars have had three different players lead the team in rushing each of the last three weeks. Tyre Bracken led the way in each of the first three games, but he injured a shoulder early in game four at Prairie View two weeks ago and hasn’t played since.
In Bracken’s absence and that of previously injured Malcolm Crockett and Jamarcus Jarvis, Lenard Tillery was the leading rusher against Prairie View (24 carries, 135 yards, one touchdown) and Herbert Edwards led the team last week at Alcorn State (6-51).
Edwards began the season on the scout team, but he and John West have become the primary backups to Tillery the last two weeks.
“It’s a major difference,” Edwards said of his rapid ascension up the depth chart. “When everybody went down I got my name called and I got the opportunity to play with the first and second team.”
Edwards didn’t get his chance until all the points had been scored in a 56-16 loss at Alcorn, but he was still able to score points with the coaches.
“All I was thinking about was running the ball,” Edwards said. “I wanted to make the best of my opportunity. When they come, you’ve got to do what you’ve got to do in a game situation to produce in front of the coaches and gain their trust.”
Odums said Southern is playing a lot fewer two-back sets because of being short-handed at running back.
“When you lose Jarvis and Malcom and Brackens there’s not a whole lot left,” he said. “I’m grateful for West and Herb Edwards. Those guys are going out there and competing and doing the best they can with their ability, but we were hit when we lost three guys that were game changers.”
Odums said Tillery is running like he’s “possessed” but he’s going to see more and more defenders near the line of scrimmage if Southern isn‘t able to pass the ball consistently well.
The Jaguars have had similar attrition at wide receiver as Randall Menard has been lost for the season due to toe surgery and Mike Jones has missed the last two games because of an ankle injury.
Willie Quinn is the leading receiver and has more than twice as many catches as the No. 2 receiver. Quinn has 21 catches for a 14.1 average and two touchdowns. Justin Morgan is next with nine catches for a 22.0 average and three touchdowns.
“The defenses are paying a lot of attention to Willie,” Odums said. “I think they understand he has big-play capability so some other guys have to step up.”
Quinn dropped two third-down passes last week in a game that he had to leave briefly because of a hip pointer.
“Quinn doesn’t normally drop the ball,” Odums said. “That’s uncharacteristic of him.
“He’s taking a pounding because he’s stepping up and trying to make some more plays. We just need him to focus on doing his job. We don’t need him to be a hero. Just make your plays. We rely a lot on that young man and he usually rises up to the challenge.”
Odums said he was pleased with the performance of Reggie Travis, who led the team with 68 yards on three receptions. Morgan and Sam Altman, who has four catches for 31 yards, “have to take their game to another level”, Odums said.
The Jaguars have so many playmakers at running back and receiver that the tight ends are rarely featured in the offense, but they have had chances.
Bradley Coleman is tied for second on the team with nine catches, for 99 yards and a touchdown. Dillon Beard has four catches for 62 yards and a touchdown and Montrell Jones has three catches for 39 yards.
“Everybody has different tools and different things that they do well,” Coleman said. “Everybody knows their role and they have to embrace it.
“We have to do a better job of blocking out on the perimeter and we also have to catch the ball to help take the pressure off of (Quinn). He’s doing a good job so everybody just has to continue to be consistent and rise up.”