The wounded animals are the ones that should be approached with the most caution, and that is the metaphor Southern defensive coordinator Trei Oliver applied to winless Jackson State.
“Although they’re 0-6, to me, that’s like a wounded animal,” Oliver said. “Those are the most dangerous ones. They’re hungry, they’re looking for a win. Our guys, I promise, are not sleeping on them.”
It has been a turbulent season for Jackson State up to this point, starting with a 63-0 shellacking at the hands of TCU in the opener and sputtering most recently in a 33-7 loss to Division II Tuskegee at home.
The poor showing by Jackson State suggests that the Jaguars should return home with a win Saturday. But Southern is hoping to avoid deadly complacency against one of its top rivals.
Coach Dawson Odums pointed beyond the record, noting the Tigers playing competitive games against solid Tennessee State (4-3) and Grambling (5-1) teams as evidence his team can’t stroll into Jackson thinking it has a win cinched up.
“You watch them against Tennessee State, you watch them against Grambling, and you see a totally different team than what you just saw against Tuskegee,” Odums said.
“We really don’t know what you’re going to get. We are really focusing on our football team and just trying to get our football team prepared to play like we’re capable of playing. That’s what the challenge is.”
The message this week is that, when it comes to rivalry games, the records can be dismissed.
“We know they’re going to play us like they’re a 6-0 team, because we’re Southern and they’re Jackson,” said senior linebacker Kentavious Preston.
1: Finally 100 percent
For the first time since the season opener, senior quarterback Austin Howard will start a game completely healthy. Howard has been a little rusty since returning from a knee injury that sidelined him for two games. “I really think it’s time for him to have a breakout game,” said coach Dawson Odums.
2: A new look
Jackson State shuffled its coaching staff this week, elevating receivers coach Derrick McCall to co-offensive coordinator and play-caller in place of former Southern OC Chad Germany. The Tigers currently rank last nationally among FCS teams in total offense at 210.2 yards per game.
3: The third phase
Jackson State freshman return man Terrell Kennedy leads the SWAC with 553 return yards, a figure that includes an 89-yard score against Tennessee State. Southern has done a solid job this season containing opposing kick returners, limiting them to a 16.6 yard average with a long of 36.
4: Surprise struggle
Jackson State’s hopes were pinned to its defense, which returned several key players from a team that finished No. 2 in the SWAC in total defense last year. But that defense has not performed in 2017, allowing 396.2 yards and 36.8 points per game, both figures ranking among the worst in the league.
NUMBERS TO KNOW
10 — Jackson State’s 33-7 loss to Division II Tuskegee was its 10th consecutive loss.
19 — Passing yards needed by Austin Howard to become the third Southern QB to reach 8,000 in a career.
6-1 — Southern’s record under Dawson Odums in games following an open date on the schedule.