Southern enters critical home stretch against Alabama State _lowres

Advocate staff photo by HILARY SCHEINUK -- Southern wide receiver Willie Quinn (25) carries the ball on a kickoff return against Arkansas Pine Bluff, Saturday, Oct. 4, in Southern's A.W. Mumford Stadium in Baton Rouge.

Southern football coach Dawson Odums briefly deviated from the traditional “one game at a time” mantra to show his team the big picture.

The Jaguars game against Alabama State on Saturday night starts a stretch of three games in as many Saturdays at A.W. Mumford Stadium.

Southern won’t hit the road again until concluding November with a short bus ride to the Mercedes-Benz Superdome for the Bayou Classic Game against Grambling on Nov. 29, a week after an open date.

If the Jaguars (5-3 and 4-1 in the Southwestern Athletic Conference) take care of business in November, they’ll earn an out-of-state trip — to Houston — for a chance to defend their conference title.

“We told our guys that we’ve got 30 days left in our season, so what are you going to decide?” Odums said. “Starting this week, it’s about sacrifice. For 30 days, give yourself up for the reward that is at the end, and we just challenged our guys.

“You’ve got to be creative as a coach. You’ve got to know which buttons to push and how to get the best out of these guys.”

Odums apparently pushed all the right buttons in October as the Jaguars won all three of their games to stay within one game of first-place Grambling in the West Division.

“Everybody is focused right now,” Southern offensive lineman Zach Brown said. “There’s not as much playing around as there used to be.

“We have to have a perfect November. We can’t afford to lose any games or take any steps backward. We have to keep moving forward.”

The Hornets (4-4, 3-3) stepped backward in October, losing all three of their games. The month began with a 33-7 loss to Alcorn State in a showdown for first place in the East. Then came losses to Prairie View (34-24) and Alabama A&M (37-36).

Though the Hornets remain in second place, they have yet to win on the road this season, and a loss to Southern would eliminate ASU from the East title chase. Alcorn has an open date this week.

The Hornets are second in the SWAC in scoring defense (26.0), but last week they allowed A&M to drive 78, 84 and 95 yards to second-half touchdowns. The Bulldogs overcame a 20-7 halftime deficit.

“Defensively we just have to get better,” ASU coach Reggie Barlow said. “We are allowing teams to drive the ball on us 95 yards with the game on the line, and we have to do a better job.”

Odums took note of the Hornets’ defensive line, especially 6-foot-3, 348-pound tackle Roderick Henderson.

“They’re very big on the defensive line,” Odums said. “Their front seven is probably the strength of their defense. They get after you. They’ll bring some pressure. They’re very good in their front seven.”

Southern is coming off its best offensive performance against NCAA competition this season in a 42-28 victory at Jackson State last Saturday. The Jaguars had season highs in rushing yards (267), passing yards (324) and total yards (591).

“Although I got a lot of respect for every team in the conference, Southern is one that has always been a favorite of mine to watch,” said Barlow, who is 2-5 against the Jaguars. “We have our work cut out for us. It’s on the road and it will be a nice atmosphere. We are looking forward to it and have to get back on track.

“They play the game the right way and coach Odums does a great job of preparing those guys. They have always played with great pride.”

The Southern defense will be tested by Malcolm Cyrus, the leading rusher in the SWAC with 1,060 yards. Daniel Duhart is a dual-threat quarterback who ranks fifth in the SWAC in total offense (220.2 yards per game) and ran for three touchdowns against Alabama A&M.

The Jaguars are ninth in the SWAC in total defense (459.1 yards per game), though most of Jackson State’s 530 yards came after Southern bolted to a 27-0 lead.

Odums noted the similar timing of this win streak with the Jaguars’ title run last year when they won two out of three in October before finishing the season with a five-game win streak.

“We have the next few at home, so now some other teams have to travel 63 (players) to play against our 85,” Odums said. “I like this opportunity we have with this last stretch at home, and we’re looking forward to seeing if we can put some wins together.”

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