Each week Southern sets its “mission report” goals, the list of achievements the offense wants to see on Saturday.
Some goals change depending on the game plan that week. Some stay the same regardless.
One of the standard goals every time the Jaguars step on the field is to execute 10 explosive plays: at least five runs of 10 or more yards and five passes of 15 or more yards.
If they can do that, one box gets checked off.
So far, Southern has been successful just once through five games.
The Jaguars met their goal exactly in a loss to Alcorn State this season, hitting five of each target.
They’ve hit half their goal twice; five passes against South Carolina State in the opener and nine rushes this past weekend against Fort Valley State.
In total, Southern has 37 plays that offensive coordinator Chennis Berry considers “explosive,” accounting for about 11 percent of the Jaguars 237 total offensive plays from scrimmage.
“It’s about rhythm,” Berry said. “We all want the big play, but our philosophy here is 'first downs equal touchdowns.' Just take what the defense gives you.
"The game of football is really simple. Basically, go to where they’re not. If they’re going to give you those five and six yard dinks, you take them. Our philosophy is to move the chains.”
Quarterback Austin Howard said he likes the small yardage plays because that’s what New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady does.
Howard studies Brady’s style and how the five-time Super Bowl champion is able to lead New England on steady, methodical drives even under pressure.
But taking the small yardage approach earned Southern just 73 first downs so far this season, putting it in the bottom half of the Southwestern Athletic Conference.
Howard said he isn’t averse to going after the big play more often, but he doesn’t want to force the issue, especially with Southern’s young talent at the skills positions.
With Randall Menard ruled out for the season, a large chunk of Southern’s offense is generated by underclassmen.
The leading receiver is freshman Jamar Washington and the leading rusher is sophomore Devon Benn. Excluding Menard, only six of the 11 players to catch a pass this season are upperclassmen.
“The lack of experience, just knowing how to get open,” Howard said of why Southern hasn’t produced many big plays this season. “Just because you have a certain route doesn’t mean you have to run it the way the coaches run it if it’s covered. The lack of chemistry, just being new to the game.”
Berry said he’s been making aggressive play calls, and when he watches film he can see opportunities for big plays, but the execution falls through at the last moment.
The first play from scrimmage this season was a reverse, wide-receiver pass to Randall Menard against South Carolina State, but the defense quickly collapsed on Menard who pulled the ball down and ran for 10 yards.
This past week, Southern finally found some degree of success when freshman wide receiver Cameron Mackey took a reverse 62 yards for a touchdown. It is the longest play of the season for Southern and one of only five that went for 30 or more yards.
Now it’s just a matter of replicating that success.
“We’re taking shots,” said coach Dawson Odums. “Guys have got to make plays. You get a chance, you break a run, then you’ve got to finish that run. You get a chance to catch a deep ball, then you’ve got to reel it in. That’s really where, I think, you see that level of inconsistency in our play. When we get a chance to make big plays, we’re not making those plays.”