After Southern lost to Alcorn State 48-7 on Saturday, the Jaguars’ postseason hopes were left circling the drain, just as torrents of rain had circled the drains inside A.W. Mumford all day and into the night.
A second Southwestern Athletic Conference loss in three weeks — and the second straight at home — made a third consecutive trip to the SWAC title game all but mathematically impossible.
Coach Dawson Odums didn’t sound angry or frustrated at his team’s fifth consecutive loss to the Braves, though he might have been one or both. He sounded more like a doctor who had examined the patient and come to the only diagnosis possible.
“We don’t play like a postseason team,” said Odums, who’s on the verge of not taking the Jaguars to the postseason for the first time in his three full seasons as head coach.
Odums cited the fact that Southern has won consecutive games just once this season, when it beat lightweights Mississippi Valley State and Jackson State in the second and third games.
“You’ve got to play consistent football,” he continued, “and when you don’t play consistent football, then you really can’t consider yourself a postseason team.”
For instance, an impressive victory at Alabama State on Oct. 10 was followed by a mistake-filled loss to Prairie View.
A methodical victory at Texas Southern last week was followed by a sloppy blowout Saturday.
“If you’re a good football team,” Odums said, “you’ve got to get off that roller coaster.”
The roller coaster should be headed up with a trip to face Arkansas-Pine Bluff, which is winless in the SWAC, coming up Saturday. Then comes the home finale against an average Alabama A&M team.
So the opportunity is there for the Jaguars to get back on track before the open date that precedes the Nov. 28 Bayou Classic against Grambling. But by that time, it’s all but certain that Grambling or Prairie View will have unseated Southern as West Division champion.
Grambling is 6-0 and can clinch the West before it ever gets to the Bayou Classic by beating Texas Southern and Arkansas-Pine Bluff. It can clinch as soon as Saturday if it beats Texas Southern and Prairie View loses to Alcorn.
The Jaguars’ loss to Prairie View meant they would need some help along the way, but they still had a simple path back to Houston for the title game. They knew, if they ran the table, the only help they would need was one Prairie View loss — and Alcorn was waiting in the wings.
But that was before Saturday. A Southern victory against Alcorn, which hasn’t happened since 2012, would have made a winner-take-all finale in the Bayou Classic attainable.
Now, the hole the Jaguars have to climb out of resembles the one they faced Saturday as a 21-7 deficit turned into a 48-7 deficit after a seven-minute blitz.
“It’s a horrible feeling,” running back Lenard Tillery said. “We preach all the time about keeping our destiny in our own hands.”
If you’re looking for a silver lining behind all those dark clouds that sat over Mumford Stadium on Saturday, it comes in the form of how Southern has played after losing to Alcorn the past two seasons.
In 2013, a 44-38 overtime loss to the Braves left the Jaguars where they are today: 4-2 in the SWAC. But that year, there was no competition like there is this year, with unbeaten Grambling and once-beaten Prairie View.
That year, Southern won its last three and clinched the West even before it beat Grambling because second-place Prairie View wound up with four losses.
Last year, the loss to Alcorn was as lopsided as this year’s — 56-16 — but that loss came in the second game of the SWAC season, and the Jaguars had plenty of time left, which they made good use of by winning their last seven league games.
But this year, the competition is tougher, and time is running out.
And worst of all is what Dr. Odums diagnosed: “We don’t play like a postseason team.”