Southern came out of preseason camp trying to figure out how to utilize the bevy of talented running backs it had.
The Jaguars planned to emphasize the run more this season, and they have more than enough depth to shuttle in fresh backs for 60 minutes.
But things didn’t work out exactly that way in the season opener. Southern ran for just 77 yards on 32 carries in a 45-6 loss at Louisiana-Lafayette. The absence of three offensive linemen and one running back as well as having to play from behind nearly the entire game didn’t help.
Malcolm Crockett, a transfer from Pittsburgh, had a slight edge on the starter’s position before being held out of the opener because he hadn’t been certified academically. His status for the home opener against Central Methodist on Saturday is uncertain.
Lenard Tillery, last season’s leading rusher, and two other transfers — Jamarcus Jarvis (North Texas) and Tyre Bracken (Southern Miss) — were just behind Crockett. Two long shots — Herm Edwards and John West — joined the competition in preseason camp. Edwards was sidelined late in camp by an injury, but coach Dawson Odums said West might have had the best camp of all because of his mental edge.
That’s a whole bunch of running backs bunched together on the depth chart, but in the opener it was Bracken, a late arrival to camp, who was most active. He ran 15 times for 46 yards.
“I liked what I was able to see from Tyre,” fullback Brian McCain said. “Throughout practice you could see what to expect from him. The extra reps were just how the game rolled over the course of the night, but he didn’t disappoint one bit. He took advantage of every rep.”
Bracken, like all players in their first year in the Southern program, is off limits for interviews.
“He had to play probably more than anticipated, but at the end of the day I looked at him and I know he was happy for the opportunity that he got,” Odums said. “He’s happy to be here, and we’re happy that he’s here. He ran the ball hard, ran the ball well, did some good things.
“I told him, ‘In this game you never know your role. Your role changes from start to finish. You might have gone in as a backup and thinking you weren’t going to play much but somebody goes down and you become the guy,’ so I was happy about the way he accepted his role.”
Tillery rushed six times for 21 yards and Jarvis three times for five yards against UL-Lafayette. It wouldn’t be surprising if the workload is shared differently Saturday.
With no travel restrictions on the roster this week and Southern facing an NAIA opponent, the Jaguars might be able to run more effectively and include more participants.
The anticipated emphasis on the run game and the revolving door at running back might be on display more so than they were last week.
“It’s a tricky game,” McCain said. “You never know until you actually get in a game what’s going to happen. We’re looking forward to the opportunity this Saturday and hopefully we can showcase our talents at running back.”