At a glance, the dominant rushing game Southern unleashed in a 56-14 win over Central Methodist might have seemed like a certainty coming against an NAIA opponent.
But a closer look shows Southern was working with a patchwork offensive line thinned by injuries and academic casualties.
Starting tackle Reginald Redding sat out because of lingering effects from a training-camp concussion, and center Brandon Thibodeaux went down with a first-quarter leg injury.
All told, seven players saw action on the offensive line, including two at multiple positions. And for the second week in a row, walk-ons Jamal Boulden and Neako Jones started.
Still, there were no problems with production as the offensive line paved the way for 395 rushing yards.
“I love it. You’re going to win games if you rush for 300 yards,” Southern coach Dawson Odums said. “We got those (running) backs here for a reason. We told them if they came here, they’d get a chance to run the football.”
Chances were everywhere Saturday as seven Jaguars running backs got carries in addition to quarterbacks Deonte Shorts and Austin Howard.
“It makes my job much easier as far as the passing game. The defense has to respect the running game,” said Shorts, who threw for 191 yards and ran for 68.
The biggest benefactors of the line’s blocking were running backs Malcolm Crockett and Tyre Bracken. Crockett, a transfer from Pittsburgh who was ruled eligible this week, ran for 117 yards and a score on 21 carries. Bracken had 125 yards on just eight attempts, including a 63-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter.
Boulden didn’t characterize the offensive line’s play as perfect, but he felt the result spoke for itself.
“The line did a very good job tonight. We had two backs go over 100 yards and we didn’t give up any sacks. That’s a good day in the books,” Boulden said.
Boulden credited the line for a strong week of practice when it focused on correcting mental errors during last week’s loss to Louisiana-Lafayette. Seeing the hard work pay off is nothing new for Boulden, a walk-on from Chicago.
“Sometimes if feels like a dream. But that’s what I put in all of the work for,” Boulden said. “I was here in the summer grinding, going to school, working out at 5:30 in the morning. I knew it was going to pay off.”
Saturday, it paid off for the team, as Southern had one of its most productive days running the football in recent years.
The rushing total was the most since Southern gained 318 yards last season in a 53-0 win over Clark Atlanta.
The Jaguars, who averaged 112 rushing yards per game last season, closed out their 2013 schedule with 100 or more yards against Grambling and Jackson State.
Kylum Favorite and Lenard Tillery went past 100 in the win over Clark Atlanta, the last time Southern had two backs surpass that mark in the same game.
Last week, Southern ran for only 77 yards against Louisiana-Lafayette — but this week, the Jaguars had 79 after one quarter against Central Methodist.
“We’re as explosive as anybody,” Odums said. “We didn’t just throw the ball around. Everybody got a chance to see our backfield today. If the offensive line can open up holes and we can run the football, we like our chances.
“We’ve got receivers, too, so you’re not going to be able to load up the box against us. You’re going to have to pick your poison when you play us.”