JACKSON, Miss. — Earlier this week, when Southern found out Jackson State made a change to its offensive coaching staff, taking play-calling duties away from Chad Germany and giving them to Derrick McCall, Southern’s Dawson Odums said adjusting to anything new would be key.
Odums likely figured the only thing his team would have to adjust to was a play the Jaguars hadn't seen before. It’s not likely he thought he’d be adjusting to the wrench thrown by a thunderstorm that delayed kickoff by 90 minutes, too.
But Southern navigated the unexpected from both Jackson State and Mother Nature in a 35-17 win, dodging both early punches, adapting and overcoming.
"That's the name of the game," Odums said. "You've got to make adjustments and move forward. ... I think that's what we did. We didn't know what they were going to do."
That storm knocked out power in parts of Mississippi Veteran's Stadium, including the visitor's locker room, which lost air conditioning. With the temperature rising in the stuffy room, Odums sent his team out to its air-conditioned bus to rest until it was cleared to return to the field, where it would get tested again.
Southern (4-3, 2-1 Southwestern Athletic Conference) was coming off one of its best defensive performances of the year, when it allowed 52 yards rushing to Alabama A&M on homecoming.
Jackson State (0-7, 0-3), which entered the game having gained fewer total yards than any team in Division I or II, won the coin toss, elected to receive and eclipsed Alabama A&M’s rushing total on its first three offensive plays.
The first change McCall made was to insert junior quarterback Jordan Williams into the starting lineup in place of Brent Lyles, who had started the previous six games. Coming into the game, Williams had only thrown two passes and attempted six runs all season.
Most of his previous playing time came at wide receiver. He showed off some excellent speed running the option on the Tigers’ opening drive, and Southern did not look ready.
"We didn't expect that," said senior linebacker Kentavious Preston, who made six tackles, including 2.5 tackles for loss.
Williams kept on the third play of that drive and raced deep into Southern territory for a 42-yard gain. Two plays later, he capped a five-play, 75-yard touchdown drive, momentarily hyping up the Jackson State fans that still remained after the delay.
It was only momentary hype, because Southern made its adjustment quickly.
The Jaguars completely shut down Jackson State for much of the next three quarters. After giving up the opening touchdown, Southern allowed just one first down on the next seven, six of which were three-and-outs.
"After that first drive, we just settled in and played football," Preston said.
Southern started committing another defender to keeping Williams contained on the read option. It swarmed the Tigers early in the downs sequence and forced third-and-longs — eight of Jackson State's 10 third-down attempts required eight or more yards to convert.
Despite the fact that Jackson State racked up 58 yards rushing on the first three plays, it managed to pick up only 9 more yards on the ground the remainder of the game.
"We didn't panic," said senior defensive back Danny Johnson.
By the time Jackson State busted out of those shackles with a 55-yard touchdown drive in the third quarter, the Jaguars had built a 28-10 lead.
Offensively, Southern wore the Jackson State defense down with numerous extended drives, something it had not been able to do much of before Saturday.
The Jaguars had only recorded two scoring drives of 10 or more plays this season before the Jackson State game, and three scoring drives that covered 75 or more yards.
Against Jackson State, Southern turned in a 10-play, 80-yard touchdown drive and an 11-play, 76-yard touchdown drive.
"Ten plays, 80 yards — that's good in my book, as long as it ends in a touchdown," said senior quarterback Austin Howard.
Senior running back Herb Edwards did most of the heavy lifting. He tallied his third consecutive 100-yard rushing day with a career-high 157 yards.
"It makes you feel good as a running back," Edwards said. "You feel like, 'Coach, give me the ball, keep giving me the ball, I'm hot, they can't stop me right now.' "
The first play of the second half was an 11-yard carry by Edwards, one of six runs he had of 10 or more yards. He carried five more times on that drive, the last of which was a 1-yard touchdown plunge that made it 28-10.
Southern immediately responded to Jackson State’s touchdown drive with one of its own, culminating in Austin Howard’s 68th career passing touchdown.
The Jaguars have now won three consecutive games. They will look to extend that winning streak next week vs. Arkansas-Pine Bluff. Kickoff is set for 4 p.m. at War Memorial Stadium in Little Rock, Arkansas.