Southern has had two weeks to work on reducing penalties in preparation for the Bayou Classic.

It went into an open date last week having had two consecutive subpar games in terms of penalties.

The Jaguars rank in the middle of the pack in penalties in Southwestern Athletic Conference play. They average 8.3 penalties and 70.9 penalty yards per game going into the season finale against Grambling on Saturday in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.

But against Arkansas-Pine Bluff on Nov. 6, they were penalized nine times for 95 yards, and a week later against Alabama A&M, they were penalized 10 times for 100 yards.

Coach Dawson Odums didn’t sound overly concerned about the recent penalties.

“We don’t have many of those pre-snap penalties,” he said. “We had one offsides (against Alabama A&M) and no false starts. Those are the ones that you don’t like as a coach.

“You’re going to have some physical penalties. You’re going to have a pass interference. You’re going to have a holding. That’s going to happen during the game. You just don’t want to have it happen a whole lot.”

Southern has generally been more disciplined since it was penalized a season-high 14 times for a season-high 114 yards in a 45-34 win at Alabama State on Oct. 10.

Former teammates to collide

One of the keys for Grambling will be containing Lenard Tillery, the leading rusher in the SWAC who has had five consecutive 100-yard games to become the Jaguars’ career rushing leader as a junior.

Tigers defensive lineman Donovan McCray knows Tillery better than most of his teammates do.

When he was asked how to stop Tillery, McCray had a simple answer: “hit him.”

McCray and Tillery played together at McKinley High.

“I blocked for him, and it’s crazy to see him; and now he’s playing against me, and now I’m on the other side of the ball tracking him,” McCray said. “It’s weird, but it feels good at the same time.”

Front four push

If Southern is going to slow down Grambling quarterback Johnathan Williams it’s going to need a strong pass rush, preferably one that comes primarily from the front.

Defensive end Aaron Tiller had four sacks against Alabama A&M to pass up teammate Donald Brown and take over the SWAC lead in sacks. Tiller has 10 and Brown has eight.

Tackle Donald Phillips has returned to health to reestablish a strong one-two tandem with Christian Allen alongside noseguard Gabe Echols.

“Our front four has played really well all year,” Odums said. “Those guys really give us a chance to be successful. You’ve got to contend with them, and if you’re not good up front, we’ve got five or six guys that can really get after the quarterback, and that allows us to play a lot of zone coverage behind them.”

Seeing both sides

Grambling offensive coordinator Eric Dooley has an unusual perspective on the Bayou Classic, having participated in 14 versions while an assistant on Pete Richardson’s staff (as well as Stump Mitchell’s staff) at Southern.

The New Orleans native called moving from one rival to the other “making an adjustment.”

“Coach Richardson gave me a great opportunity, and I’ll always be grateful for that,” Dooley said. “We still speak; we keep in touch. I can’t thank him enough for that opportunity.”

Grambling linebackers coach and special teams coordinator Terrence Graves also was a longtime Richardson assistant, having spent 15 years at Southern (after playing for Richardson at Winston-Salem State). He’s been at Grambling since 2014.

No catching up

Southern began preseason camp nearly four months ago, and Odums was asked this week how well his team has done catching up from not being able to hold spring practice because of NCAA sanctions.

“You can’t catch up,’ he said. “I tell people all the time, ‘you’ve only got so many minutes in a day. When those minutes are gone, you never get them back.’ I never get yesterday back, so I can’t worry about things I don’t have. I’ve got to focus on the things that are in front of me and what I can control.”

Mike Gegenheimer contributed to this report.