On Southern’s second play of the second quarter in Saturday’s game against Tulane, Austin Howard lofted a perfect throw into the hands of a streaking Willie Quinn, igniting a Jaguars celebration as Quinn raced for a 75-yard touchdown.
Most continued to celebrate without seeing the flag lying on the ground behind the line of scrimmage. The referee squashed the good vibes completely when he turned on his stadium microphone and let the crowd know about the off-setting penalties that wiped away a beauty of a touchdown.
That play was the most glaring example of what has been the most prominent issue for the Southern offense so far this season.
“That’s really what’s been the biggest challenge,” coach Dawson Odums said. “We make a play, but we shoot ourselves in the foot.”
Through two games, moving the ball has not been a problem for the Jaguars offense, not even against a pair of FBS defenses.
Not counting yards lost to sacks, they rushed for 244 yards on 42 carries against ULM and had seven drives that went inside the ULM 25-yard line.
A week later against Tulane and its standout front four, it was the passing game that carried the weight, with 281 yards that mostly came in the first three quarters.
Where the Jaguars have stumbled is finishing the drives with touchdowns.
Whether it was the red zone miscues against ULM that turned touchdown opportunities into field goals and field goal opportunities into punts, or the penalty and fumble that wiped away a pair of Quinn touchdowns against Tulane, the Jaguars have laid the blame on their own shoulders for their failure to be opportunistic.
“That’s one of our main focuses,” said senior running back Lenard Tillery. “Going back the last two games, we had a lot of opportunities and moments where we could’ve capitalized if it wasn’t for foolish penalties or guys not being in the right area.
“These last couple weeks we’ve been focusing on being perfect, being where you’re supposed to be, doing your job and not worrying about too much more.”
Offensive coordinator Chennis Berry has a name for these types of errors.
“The biggest thing I preach is self-inflicted negatives — or SINs,” Berry said. “Guys just got to lock in at every position.”
Berry is a big fan of acronyms, nicknames and hidden meaning. Too many SINs, and the Blue Machine — Berry’s nickname for the Jaguars offense — can’t operate.
“The reason we term ourselves the Blue Machine is that every part of that machine has to be on point,” Berry said. “It could be one guy, and the whole play is screwed up.”
The good thing for Southern’s coaches is that they’ve identified most of the mistakes to be fixable.
“It’s mostly mental and fundamentals — penalties and untimely mistakes,” Odums said.
Though it finally gets to play a fellow FCS team this week, Southern will likely need to make the most of its opportunities this week against Alabama State.
The Hornets have been one of the stingiest defenses in the SWAC under coach Brian Jenkins. They finished No. 2 in the league in both scoring (24.8) and total (365.2) defense last season, and they’re putting up similar numbers through two games this season.
It’s no matter to Berry and the Jaguars: against FCS or FBS, bottom feeder or contender, the Jaguars have to find a way to finish the drives they’ve started.
“We want to win and be successful regardless of who we play,” Berry said. “At the end of the day, it’s 11 on 11, there are only so many things they can do or we can do. We want to get our guys to buy into the process, trust the process, stay positive through all. It may get bad, but you’ve got to stay positive.
“Our kids are excited, they’re ready to get rocking and rolling. This week in practice, we’ve been focused and locked in to all situations. I think we’ll be fine.”