Southern went into this season trying to be more balanced on offense.
Three-quarters into the season, the Jaguars have done that in dramatic fashion.
The 2013 team leaned heavily on the senior passing tandem of quarterback Dray Joseph and receiver Lee Doss, who both earned All-Southwestern Athletic Conference honors. As a result, 71 percent of Southern’s yards last season came through the air.
Going into the game against Texas Southern on Saturday night in A.W. Mumford Stadium, the Jaguars have gained 56 percent of their yards through the air. Though the passing game is less efficient than it was last season, the balance is a result more of a much-improved running game that has made Southern less predictable.
“We’re blessed,” coach Dawson Odums said. “We’re blessed to have good running backs, we’re blessed to have good receivers and we’re blessed to have good quarterbacks who can distribute the football. It’s a good thing, and we’re doing a good job of taking what the defense is giving us.”
With true freshman Austin Howard and redshirt freshman Deonte Shorts sharing quarterback, Southern didn’t want to lean as heavily on that position this season. It also doesn’t need to because it has a veteran offensive line and added three talented running backs — Malcolm Crockett, Tyre Bracken and Jamarcus Jarvis — to Lenard Tillery, last year’s leading rusher.
Southern (6-3, 5-1) already has rushed for 1,666 yards — 206 more than it had in 13 games last season, even though its 356 carries are 89 fewer than it had in 2013. The Jaguars are averaging 4.7 yards per rush after averaging 3.3 last season, and they have rushed for 19 touchdowns, one more than last season.
Tillery leads the way with 686 yards, Bracken has 374, Crockett 192 and Jarvis 70, though each of the newcomers has missed time with injuries. Herbert Edwards has chipped in 72 yards, and the quarterbacks have rushed for 275 more yards than last year’s.
“We’ve got backs,” Odums said. “(Bracken) is a change of pace. Lenard Tillery and Malcolm Crockett are brunt guys. They’re powerful and explosive, but I really believe our backfield set is a strong backfield set. We can run the football, and that helps us with play action. The best is in front of us.”
Although the Jaguars passing game is well behind last year’s pace for attempts, completions, yards, touchdowns and completion percentage, its yards-per-catch is up to 14.5 from 13.1.
Southern is coming off its least balanced game of the season in a 28-21 victory against Alabama State on Saturday in Mumford Stadium. The Hornets managed to clog the middle and hold the Jaguars to a season-low 86 rushing yards, but Howard threw for 291 yards, the team’s second-highest total this season.
Woods won’t play Saturday
Defensive lineman Justin Woods will miss Saturday’s game with an injury to his right knee that he suffered during practice Monday.
Odums said there is some damage to the medial collateral ligament, but more tests will be done once the swelling subsides.
Jones back to being holder
Wide receiver Mike Jones returned to his role as holder for the Jaguars’ victory against Alabama State.
Receiver Justin Morgan handled the job for most of the season while Jones was sidelined, then limited by a sprained ankle.
TV being raffled at game
Southern booster group A Nation of Dominance will raffle off a 50-inch high-definition TV during Saturday’s game. Tickets cost $5 and will be available form ANOD members on both the east and west sides of Mumford Stadium. The drawing will take place at the end of the third quarter, and the winner will be announced immediately thereafter.
Follow Les East on Twitter @EastAdvocate.