RUSTON — Some of Southern’s worst fears were realized Saturday night when the inexperience of its secondary was on full display in the Jaguars’ 62-15 loss to Louisiana Tech.
The Bulldogs threw for 302 yards and four touchdowns on 16-for-21 passing — in the first half alone — against a Jaguars secondary that started two underclassmen.
Louisiana Tech finished the night with 351 passing yards, tacking on another touchdown in the second half as starter and Florida transfer Jeff Driskel was relieved by junior Ryan Higgins and briefly by freshman Price Wilson.
“I feel like we lacked effort,” Southern sophomore cornerback Danny Johnson said. “We missed tackles, and some of us didn’t do our assignments. We just have to get better.”
Johnson started at right cornerback opposite fellow sophomore Ki-Jana Curtis, who filled in for an injured Jamar Mitchell.
Mitchell was a gametime decision; he struggled with a strained hamstring in preseason camp.
Freshman Demerio Houston also frequently rotated in with the secondary, as did freshman safety Arvin Huff.
The only two upperclassmen to see significant time were junior free safety Nicholas McDonald and senior strong safety Dionte McDuffy. McDonald, a first-year transfer from Southwest Mississippi Community College, rose to starting status during the summer when Bryan Anderson was deemed academically ineligible.
Senior nickleback Rhaheim Ledbetter most likely would have started against the Bulldogs but was ruled academically ineligible last week. It’s unclear if he’ll be able to return.
As a result, the young defensive backs were tested all night by Driskel and his receivers, who connected a slew of deep balls toward the sidelines.
“Some of us just lacked focus and didn’t do our job,” Johnson said. “Now (the young defensive backs) just have to grow up and do what they have to do.”
Early in the second quarter — and immediately following Southern quarterback Austin Howard’s second interception of the night — sophomore wide receiver Marcus Gaines burned past Houston along the left side for Louisiana Tech’s third passing touchdown, a 27-yard score.
Then Curtis gave up a touchdown pass.
With 12 minutes still to play in the first half, Driskel hit LSU transfer Paul Turner on a short hitch route — but Curtis missed the tackle, springing Turner loose for a 58-yard touchdown reception.
The reception was the longest of Turner’s career.
He finished with three catches for 76 yards.
After halftime, Higgins connected with sophomore wide receiver Marlon Watts on a jump ball to the corner of the end zone, over the reach of Curtis. The touchdown was the first of Watts’ career.
For Southern, however, it wasn’t all bad.
Johnson intercepted two balls in the end zone late in the first half. Both passes were off deep jump balls thrown by Higgins, who finished with 76 yards and a touchdown on 8-for-11 passing.
Johnson finished with the second-most tackles (five) and had the Jaguars’ only pass breakup. McDuffy led the Jaguars with nine tackles.