This Southern football season is starting to look a lot like the last one.
It was last season when the Jaguars opened 2-3, started to improve at midseason and won their final five games to claim the Southwestern Athletic Conference championship.
This season they opened 2-3, started to improve at midseason and have another five-game winning streak going into their game against Mississippi Valley State at 6 p.m. Saturday in A.W. Mumford Stadium.
Is it déjà vu all over again?
“It’s almost the same, and we’re on a little roll right now,” defensive end Arthur Miley said. “We’re trying to just keep building week by week.”
Southern (7-3, 6-1 SWAC) needs a victory against the Delta Devils (2-8, 1-7) to guarantee that its game against Grambling in the Bayou Classic on Nov. 29 will be a showdown for the Western Division championship and a berth in the title game. Grambling (7-0) hosts Alabama State at 2 p.m. Saturday.
The looming Bayou Classic and the pregame Senior Night ceremonies could distract the Jaguars from the task at hand, but the players insist they won’t.
“If we lose to Valley,” defensive lineman Jaylen Jordan said, “then what does the Bayou Classic mean?”
The potential for the most meaningful Bayou Classic in several seasons has been apparent since Grambling started piling up wins and the Jaguars bounced back from a September loss to East Division champ Alcorn State to start this win streak. For some, the prospect surfaced even earlier.
“People have been talking about the Bayou Classic all season,” running back Lenard Tillery said. “After (the season opener) everybody was talking about the Bayou Classic. We had to let them know, ‘Hey, it’s a long time until we get there.’ The team really recognizes Mississippi Valley is another opponent we have to beat.”
Though the Delta Devils are trying to build a program under first-year coach Rick Comegy, they were competitive against Grambling in their last game nine days ago.
Valley took an early 14-0 lead, and, even though it lost 38-23, would have had a chance if three scoring opportunities hadn’t yielded zero points. It missed a 29-yard field goal, rushed for no gain on fourth-and-3 at the Grambling 29 and rushed for 1 yard on fourth-and-goal from the 2.
“They were real close to beating Grambling,” Southern coach Dawson Odums said. “If you take two fourth-down stands away it might have turned out differently. Mississippi Valley is a good team. Their record may not indicate it, but if you watch them on film they’re getting better.”
So is Southern, just like last season.
“The defense is playing good like we did last year,” cornerback Kevin King said. “You can see everything coming together.”
The winning streak and improved defensive play, including a total of 34 points allowed by the defense the past two games, coincided with the return of Jordan, King and two other starters — safety Dionte McDuffy and cornerback D’Andre Woodland — who were sidelined earlier in the season while awaiting academic certification.
“The chemistry is starting to feel like last year,” Odums said. “We’ve finally got some guys that have played some games together. Our lineup changed the first six or seven weeks of the season. Now we’re starting to get a consistency about who’s going to be playing and those guys are starting to practice together and you can see that from the way they play.”
Wide receiver Justin Morgan said there has been a palpable difference in practice the past couple of weeks.
“You can just see a different drive in everybody’s eyes when we’re practicing because we know we’ve got the chance again and that was a great feeling last year,” he said.
“The atmosphere is great. You can definitely feel it. Everybody knows that we’ve got the chance again to repeat so as long as we stay focused we can do it again.”
Comegy can recognize the similarities to Southern’s last season. He was head coach at Jackson State when the Tigers beat the Jaguars early in the season in Mumford Stadium and lost to them in the SWAC title game.
“This is a really good Southern team,” Comegy said. “They’re getting better and better each game. Their guys are understanding their concepts better. There just aren’t a lot of mistakes within the scheme.”
As Southern tries to continue this season’s resemblance to last season’s, Jordan noted one difference. Last season, the Jaguars played seven overtimes over the course of four games that weren’t settled in regulation.
“It has (felt like last season) at times,” Jordan said, “but we’ve tried to keep it out of overtime if we could, which makes it easier on everybody.”
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