They couldn’t wait.
Yes, as usual, it was a virtual steam bath Saturday at Southern University, with a heat index that crept into the 100s.
Yes, the football team was still two weeks away from its Sept. 3 season opener in Nashville, Tenn., against Tennessee State.
Yes, it’s often hard to make heads or tails out of one simple dress rehearsal.
Despite all that, a few hundred die-hard fans lined the practice fields Saturday for Southern’s second preseason scrimmage, clamoring for an early glimpse of Stump Mitchell’s team.
What did they see?
How much, exactly, have the Jaguars improved from last year’s 2-9 mess?
Was the offense ahead of the defense Saturday? Or was it the other way around?
Call it a draw.
While the first-team offense was impressive in red-zone situations, winning far more battles and scoring touchdowns with relative ease, the defense was mostly dominant on length-of-the-field possessions.
Case in point: on the first four series of Saturday’s scrimmage, the defense forced four consecutive three-and-outs.
All told, in 100-plus plays, the defense had eight sacks and two interceptions.
“I thought defensively, I got what I wanted today,” defensive coordinator O’Neill Gilbert said. “We made some big plays today. We hit some people. We got off the field on third downs.”
One other thing: Very few players, if any, wilted from the heat. If nothing else, they’re well-conditioned.
“There were times where we left (players) out there for 13 and 14 plays, and nobody raised a hand to come out,” Gilbert said. “So overall, I was impressed with their attitude and their effort today.”
Of course, it wasn’t perfect.
They could’ve had more.
Freshman cornerback LaMarkius Pettaway, a potential starter, snared one pass and returned it for what would’ve been a defensive touchdown.
But he dropped another sure interception inside the 20-yard line, missing a chance to stop a drive. That gave him three drops in two scrimmages.
Earlier, linebacker Jamie Payton stripped tailback Terrell Alex, but Alex crawled toward the ball and recovered it.
As for the first-team offense, its day was a mixed bag, as well.
On many possessions, the offense did a solid job in moving the football. Right up until the moment it didn’t.
Take, for example, the first series of the day.
Faced with a third-and-four, Mitchell called for a pass to fullback Brian McCain near the right sideline.
McCain was open. But starting quarterback Dray Joseph threw off the mark, high and wide.
Bring on the punt team.
It was an all-too-familiar sight for SU fans who watched the offense struggle to maintain drives in 2010, its first season in Mitchell’s pro-style attack.
“Offensively, that’s the way the scrimmage was, the entire time,” Mitchell said.
“Dray said, ‘I can make that throw.’ Well, make that throw. Don’t tell me you can make it. Just make it. And Dray can make it; he just didn’t. He’ll be OK. He’ll be OK. We know what we’ve got to work on, and we’ll be able to do that.”
Unofficially, Joseph completed 14 of 21 passes with two touchdowns, including a 65-yard pass to freshman wideout William Waddel.
But more often than not, the first-team offense faded on third downs.
It also didn’t help that the offensive line struggled in pass protection.
Freshman guards Zach Brown and Isaiah Webster have spent most of the preseason with the first team.
Occasionally, during Saturday’s scrimmage, the coaching staff also used freshman Donald Glover and sophomore Taylon Jones.
“We have another scrimmage, and those young guys are going to get it. Not only did the young guys struggle, but some of the veterans struggled as well,” said Mitchell, who quickly added that Southern’s main focus Saturday was on running effectively — which, for the most part, it did.
So the offense had its moments. So, too, did the defense.
Call it a draw.
“As a defense, we did pretty good today,” Payton said. “We still made a couple mistakes. We’re not where we want to be, but we’re striving to get there.”
They’ve got two more weeks to do it.