Texas Southern coach Darrell Asberry knew what he was getting into when he brought his team into A.W. Mumford Stadium to play Southern on Saturday night.
“They’re loaded,” Asberry said on the Southwestern Athletic Conference coaches teleconference earlier in the week.
He noted that the defending SWAC champions had gotten back most of the players they had been without — because of injury or a lack of academic certification — earlier in the season.
The Tigers made Southern work for its fifth consecutive win by scoring 17 points in a 5-minute, 16-second stretch late in the first quarter and early in the second to briefly take the lead after the Jaguars bolted to a quick 14-0 lead. But Southern had too many playmakers for TSU, just as it had for Alabama State a week earlier and Jackson State the week before that — as well as Alabama A&M and Arkansas-Pine Bluff at the beginning of this streak, which has the Jaguars 6-1 in the SWAC with two games to play.
On Saturday, there was the familiar sight of Lenard Tillery running hard and twisting, turning and leaning forward to gain 125 yards and score the touchdown that provided the final points in the 30-20 victory.
There was Austin Howard playing another efficient game at quarterback, complementing the running game by completing 15 of 25 passes for 177 yards and not turning the ball over.
But this game, much like this winning streak, also was defined by the number of key contributors, especially those who aren’t headliners every week.
The Tigers have the SWAC’s top-rated pass defense, and they were determined to contain big-play receivers Willie Quinn, Reggie Travis and Justin Morgan, who combined for just five catches and 43 yards. So the leading receiver Saturday was tight end Montrell Jones, who nearly doubled his season catch total by grabbing four passes for 66 yards.
The Jaguars’ depth of playmakers was even more evident on the defense, which yielded 220 yards (its lowest total against an NCAA opponent this season), including 66 in a scoreless second half, and 99 rushing yards (Southern’s second-lowest total allowed). The Jaguars had three sacks, continuing a trend in which they have made 23 of their 29 sacks during this win streak.
But the tackles-for-loss numbers really tell the story. Southern made nine tackles behind the line of scrimmage for 34 yards in losses. A total of 11 players had a hand in those nine tackles.
Linebacker Brian McCain led the way with two tackles for loss, and nose tackle Jaylen Jordan had 1.5. Nose tackle Gabe Echols and end Arthur Miley had one each.
Chipping in with half a tackle for loss each were four linebackers (Demetrius Carter, Martin Henry, Kentavious Preston and Aaron Tiller), two defensive backs (Diomte McDuffy and D’Andre Woodland) and defensive lineman Donald Phillips.
When Odums singled out defensive leaders after the game, he rattled off half a dozen names, four of which missed time earlier in the season.
The overall performance had a few blemishes — a fourth-down conversion allowed on a botched punt, an inability to fall on a pop-up kickoff, a blocked punt returned for a touchdown, not to mention yet another blocked extra point. Throw in a lost fumble, and you have a handful of breakdowns that could have been game-changers.
But when you’re as “loaded” as this team is, you can overcome those shortcomings.