Now that it has lost a Southwestern Athletic Conference game, Southern knows another setback could knock it completely out of the West division title race.
“We know we have to come together more as a team and win out from here,” cornerback Danny Johnson said.
The Jaguars, 3-3 and 3-1 in the SWAC after a 47-42 loss to Prairie View last Saturday, has five games remaining, beginning with their matchup against Texas Southern, 3-3 and 2-3, at 2 p.m. Saturday at BBVA Compass Stadium in Houston.
Southern has responded mostly well to defeats during coach Dawson Odums’ tenure. The Jaguars have won eight of their previous nine games following a defeat, including two this season. They bounced back from a 62-15 loss to Louisiana Tech in the season opener to beat Mississippi Valley State 50-13. And after losing to Georgia 48-6 on Sept. 26, Southern returned from an open date to beat Alabama State 45-34.
Running back Lenard Tillery attributed the successful responses to defeats to “a strong spirit of bouncing back.”
“A loss doesn’t mean you’re a bad team, it just means that you’re a team that can be beat, just like any other team in the country,” Tillery said. “You just have to recognize what went wrong, fix it and come back next week stronger.”
The Jaguars said they had a lot to fix after the loss to the Panthers. In that game, they lost four fumbles, allowed 11 of 16 conversions on third down, failed on four running plays from inside the Prairie View 3-yard line and had several special teams breakdowns.
“We just weren’t playing on all cylinders,” Odums said. “We have yet to play a complete game on offense, defense and special teams. It’s been that way all year.
“You know you can play better, you know you’ve got to play better and the challenge is to play better. The coaches have to coach better, and that’s what this program is about. We’ve been behind the 8-ball before. We’ve faced adversity.”
Before last week, Southern had never trailed in a SWAC game this season, having sandwiched a 50-31 victory against Jackson State between the ones against Valley and Alabama State.
“You’ve got to understand that better teams are coming, but you don’t get that until that team gets here and you realize in the fourth quarter that it’s a dogfight and now you want to wake up and play,” Odums said. “No, you’ve got to play like that from start to finish. I think this football team will be focused on Texas Southern.
“This is the first time this year that their character is going to be tested. Now we’ll see what kind of football team we have in front of us. It’s going to be a tough challenge, but I wouldn’t want to go into it with nobody but other than the guys in that locker room.”
Tight end Montrell Jones said the loss would “open (the Jaguars’) eyes.”
“It will make us more hungry and more humble,” Jones added.
The Tigers are in the reverse situation from the Jaguars. For just the second time this season, they’re coming off a win, having beaten Valley 49-21 last week for their first win in a month.
Coach Darrell Asberry said he doesn’t expect his players to get a false sense of security after the win or be distracted by this game being homecoming.
“These guys understand that we’re at a place right now with this program where we have to stay grounded,” he said. “Southern is coming off a tough loss, but one thing about those guys is, they know how to win.
“They’re coming off a couple of trips to the championship game. They have a rich pride and tradition down there. We just need to continue to do the things that it takes in order to stay on track.”
Southern quarterback Austin Howard said he expects the Jaguars to get back on track. They are a game behind Grambling (5-0) and essentially a game behind Prairie View (4-1) in the West because of the head-to-head tiebreaker.
“Sometimes good teams need a loss to see where we’re at and how we’re going to bounce back,” Howard said. “Every loss is not a bad loss. I think it was a good loss. Prairie View is a good team. We just have to bounce back. We’ll see what kind of team we have this week.
“Everyone is going to be going hard because we don’t want to go home earlier than we have to.”
Follow Les East on Twitter: @EastAdvocate.