There wasn’t an ounce of emotion or hesitation in Southern coach Dawson Odums’ voice when asked about the margin of error in this weekend’s game against Alcorn State. He’s well aware of what’s at stake.
“You have no margin of error,” Odums bluntly said at his weekly luncheon news conference.
The defending Southwestern Athletic Conference champions handed Southern, not one, but two losses last season by a combined score of 94-40, producing more than 1,000 yards of total offense in the process.
This season won’t be any easier as the Braves are once again at the top of the conference food chain, leading the SWAC Eastern Division with a 4-1 record in conference play and holding the league’s most potent rushing offense at 245.7 yards per game on the ground.
The Jaguars will counter with the SWAC’s No. 2 rush defense (136.3 ypg), but are only two weeks removed from Prairie View running back Johnta’ Hebert running for 114 yards and a pair of touchdowns on Southern’s homecoming night.
“You have to maintain your gaps, you have to dominate your one-on-one, and you have to win your one-on-one,” Odums said about what the defense learned from Prairie View. “I think we’re going to see a similar type of offense (this week), and for the most part (against Prairie View), we controlled the running game.
“(Hebert) was able to get free a couple of times, but for the most part, we’ve been pretty good against the run.”
The Southern defense bounced back this past weekend at Texas Southern for what Odums called one of the best performances he’s seen out of the Jaguars’ run defense in his four seasons as head coach.
The Jaguars stuffed the Tigers for minus-2 yards rushing on 30 carries — the lowest total for an Odums-led Southern team.
“It’s important to have a solid game all the way around,” Odums said. “Defensively, those guys realize that we had a chance to win the football game (against Prairie View) and they didn’t play well. So what? You move on.
“There’s gong to be some games that we win where you play bad. There’s going to be games where you lose and you play bad. It’s just a matter of those guys focusing on what’s important.”
But Alcorn State won’t go down nearly as easily with two of the SWAC’s top runners on its sideline.
Running back Darryan Ragsdale ranks second in the conference with 85.5 yards per game; quarterback John Gibbs Jr. is at No. 8 with 54.6 yards per game. Southern’s Lenard Tillery leads the league with an average of 104.6 yards and a total of nine touchdowns.
Odums called Gibbs one of the top playmakers in the league, comparing him to Texas Southern wide receiver Derrick Griffin, who fell to No. 4 among the SWAC’s receiving leaders this week after the Jaguars held him to one reception for 7 yards.
“Some of those players are still here (from last year’s championship game),” Odums said. “They remember. They understand that we had chances. They’ll get 60 minutes again, and what you do with yours is up to you.”