Southern believes its offense is going to be difficult to defend this season.
So the Jaguars plan to use a faster tempo more often, giving their myriad playmakers more and better opportunities to make big plays.
“When we go tempo, I think we’re at our best,” coach Dawson Odums said. “When you go tempo, you run more plays. And the more plays you have, the better your chances to move the football around. I think that’s helpful.”
A faster tempo could come in handy at 6 p.m. Saturday in the season opener at Louisiana Tech, which has a defense that likes to confuse blockers with a lot of presnap movement. The faster the ball is snapped, the less time there is for presnap maneuvering, as well as substitutions.
“I think a lot of their big plays on defense come from the confusion that they have when they’re moving around a lot on defense,” Odums said. “That creates some bad reads and some opportunities for big plays.”
One of Southern’s strengths last season, when it won the Southwestern Athletic Conference West Division before losing to Alcorn State in the conference title game, was its balance on offense. It ran tempo, but not as frequently as it plans to this season.
Lenard Tillery became the Jaguars’ first 1,000-yard rusher in 10 years, and quarterback Austin Howard emerged as the SWAC Freshman of the Year by spreading the ball to a bevy of talented receivers. Six of the top seven receivers are back, and the group has been enhanced by the return of two more proven weapons: Randall Menard (injury) and Nico Talbert (ineligibility).
“To try and spread that football around evenly is a tough task for the offensive coaches,” Odums said. “They have so many playmakers over there, it’s kind of hard to get it to everybody.”
Again, a faster tempo will lead to more plays and an opportunity to better use all the skill players.
“The best thing about the tempo offense is, it’s going to limit the defense,” Tillery said. “A lot of defenses that we played last year right before the play, they were switching their linemen up and they could switch their alignment and their coverage, but once you tempo a team, they have to stay in that coverage — or they can try and switch to another coverage, but a lot of times there’s missed communication, leaving someone open or uncovered. So whenever you tempo, it’s going to test the other team’s conditioning, and it’s going to test their mental awareness.”
Howard said he enjoyed running tempo last season “because it gave us an advantage against a lot of teams.”
“It was easy yards,” he said. “Big plays were usually made on the tempo. Tempo is huge for us because we want to get to the ball, get lined up fast, snap the ball fast and create matchups that work in our favor. If the defense is looking to the sideline for the call and we’re already on the ball, it’ll be to our advantage to go with a fast tempo.”
Odums and offensive coordinator Chad Germany said a year’s experience has made Howard more comfortable running the offense. Faster decision-making by the quarterback makes a faster tempo more effective.
“I know a lot more than last year,” Howard said. “Rather than sitting in meetings just listening, this year I can listen and interpret and bring it to the field. I think it’s really going to be a big thing for us this year.”
Tech will provide a good gauge of just where the Southern offense is.
“They score a lot of points,” Bulldogs coach Skip Holtz said of the Jaguars. “They are very explosive offensively. They’re very balanced. They have a lot of experience.”
Odums said the Jaguars are capable of slowing down and still being effective, especially with the one-two punch of Tillery and Malcolm Crockett in the run game.
“We’re not going to be able to go tempo the entire game,” Odums said. “That’s going to give Malcolm and Tillery a chance to run the football. I think we’ve got to mix it up, have a good balance and understand that, when we’re going tempo and giving teams problems, let’s put our foot on the gas.
“If we’re going three-and-out with tempo, let’s pull back a little bit and change up our tempo.”
Follow Les East on Twitter: @EastAdvocate.