After a practice this week, Southern coach Dawson Odums, watching his players as they separated to meet with their position groups, spoke about the weekly challenge of getting their minds in the right place.
He brought up his era’s coaching greats — Nick Saban, Bill Belichick — and their not-so-secret key to sustained success. It’s a fourth-and-1 mindset, Odums said. They get their staff and players to act as if every decision, practice and day is fourth-and-1.
Across from his team Saturday in Little Rock, Arkansas, will be a 2-5 Arkansas Pine Bluff team that has won 11 games in the past four and a half seasons. The Golden Lions are a team Southern should beat.
The goal, for Odums, is to never let that last notion — “we should beat them” — creep into his players’ minds. Only bad things can happen if you are not focused on fourth-and-1.
“In our locker room it’s all about mindset,” Odums said. “It’s about, We’re going on the road, here’s the challenge: Pine Bluff. Are we going to prepare ourselves the right way to go in and dominate the challenge?”
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Defensive end Aaron Tiller has been in this situation too many times to leave himself open for a letdown. It was only last week Southern was on the road visiting an 0-6 Jackson State team that was desperate for a win.
It goes beyond the lack of focus that comes with taking a win for granted, he said. The uniform he wears provides added incentive for any team, but especially a team that is scuffling and already out of the postseason race.
“People who ain’t playing good, it’ll make their season if they beat us,” Tiller said. “There ain’t no need for us to let up.”
Added senior quarterback Austin Howard, who also has been through this dance a number of times, “Everybody gets up to beat Southern. I don’t know why; that’s just how it’s been since I’ve been here.”
In Odums’ four-plus years at the helm of the Southern football program, he has consistently met the challenge of getting his players to believe it is fourth-and-1.
The Jaguars have lost seven Southwestern Athletic Conference games since Odums took over as the full-time head coach in 2013, and none of those games came against a team that finished worse than 7-2 in the SWAC.
The combined SWAC record of the seven league opponents to defeat an Odums-coached Southern team is 55-8.
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How has Southern consistently avoided a letdown on Saturday?
“That’s Monday through Friday,” Howard said. “Coach Odums knows this team, he knows us, he can just look in our eyes and tell what kind of day we’re going to have. If we don’t come out there with the right attitude, the right demeanor, the right sense of urgency, we’ll be on that line running.
“Just because a team is 2-5, just because a team is 0-6, don’t mean anything. We’ve still got to go play hard, play Jag football.”
Jaguar football, Odums said, means being better today than you were yesterday. It is never about who is lining up across from the Jaguars, regardless of whether they are undefeated or winless.
“It’s never about the opponent,” Odums said. “It’s about, Are we going to perfect greatness within our organization? Are we going to chase that?”
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