East: Southern, Grambling happy to make Classic great (again) _lowres

Advocate file photo by HILARY SCHEINUK -- Southern coach Dawson Odums walks among his players during pregame warmups at Alcorn State last seaon in Lorman, Miss. On Saturday, Odums -- who also serves as hos own defensive coordinator -- will match wits with Prairie View coach Willie Simmons, who serves as defensive coordinator.

When Prairie View and Southern meet Saturday in A.W. Mumford Stadium, it will be Willie Simmons’ team against Dawson Odums’ team.

It will also be Simmons’ offense against Odums’ defense.

Simmons is in his first season as the Panthers head coach and he serves as his own offensive coordinator. Odums doubles as his own defensive coordinator with the Jaguars.

It’s the first time the two have met since Simmons became a head coach for the first time before this season, but it’s not the first time Odums’ defense has faced Simmons’ offense.

Simmons was hired as the Panthers head coach after he helped Alcorn State win the Southwestern Athletic Conference championship last season. The Braves beat a depleted Southern team 56-16 in the regular season and won a rematch against a rejuvenated Jaguars team 38-24 in the SWAC championship game.

“The gap has closed each time that we’ve played them,” Odums said. “When we played them the first time up at Alcorn last year, we really didn’t have a full deck of cards. But you saw in the championship game that there was some football being played, and the gap wasn’t what it was like the first time.”

Simmons and Odums are friendly competitors who knew each other before Simmons joined the SWAC three years ago.

“They play hard, they play extremely fast,” Simmons said of the Jaguars defense. “They play with a lot of confidence. You see them being enthusiastic and jumping around, which is the way defenses have to play. I don’t think you can be successful as a defense if you don’t play with a high level of enthusiasm.

“All of his teams the three years I’ve gone against them have all been that way. They don’t quit. They’ve been down and they’ve fought back before. The only game that hasn’t been a close game was the regular-season game last season. They play smart and don’t give up big plays or beat themselves too often.”

The Panthers lead the SWAC with an average of 511.8 yards per game, and they’re fourth in scoring (47.5). The Jaguars are second in scoring defense (26.0) and third in total defense (402.7).

“He’s always been able to do something,” Odums said of Simmons. “He’s creative. They’re going to have some formations that you haven’t seen. You’re going to have to adjust. They’re going to have a trick play or two here and there.”

When Odums was promoted from defensive coordinator to head coach two games into the 2012 season, he had to learn to balance his coordinator’s duties with those of the head coach.

“It’s a simple philosophy,” Odums said. “You get the job based on your talents so allow your talents to continue to help the team get better.

“You have to understand time management and trust the other side. I hardly ever mess with the offense. If I’m over there, you know there are problems.”

But Odums is very hands-on with the entire defense, not just the line and the Sam linebackers that he coaches individually.

“He knows every position,” Mike linebacker Kentavious Preston said. “He can also come over to the inside linebackers and tell me what I’m doing right and wrong. He can come over to the cornerbacks. He can basically coach everyone on the field.

“At practice, he always coaches the defense. He never stands around and looks. He’s always coaching his position or coaching other positions.”

Simmons is in the reverse position, delegating the defense to coordinator Ralph Street, who was defensive line coach at Alcorn for three seasons before following Simmons to Prairie View.

Though Simmons said “you have to be a little more in tune with what’s going on defensively” as head coach, he still confers with offensive position coaches to make adjustments while the defense is on the field.

“As a coordinator, that’s when you take the time to get everything ironed out,” Simmons said. “When you’re the head coach, you have to do that a lot quicker because you do want to go and watch the game and make sure if we need a timeout, I’m there to call the timeout, or if I see something that the offense is trying to do I can go and relay it to coach Street.

“Just having to always be at the forefront of the attention is probably the biggest adjustment. I’ve been doing the play-calling part of it for five years now. That’s not difficult for me, but just managing the entire game offensively, defensively and special teams has been the biggest adjustment.”

Follow Les East on Twitter: @EastAdvocate.