Saturday’s scrimmage at Southern ended just like it began — with the ball in the hands of Demerio Houston.
The Jaguars’ second-string cornerback opened the scrimmage with an interception on the first snap, picking off a poorly thrown ball from freshman John Lampley.
And after about 100 plays, the day ended when Houston picked off freshman Bubba McDaniel, this time taking it 20 yards for a touchdown.
For an experienced player who hasn’t received much opportunity to play with the first team during camp, Saturday was a big step toward proving Houston is a contender for the starting cornerback spot opposite Danny Johnson.
“I needed this scrimmage to boost my confidence so I can show the coaches I can play with the (starters), I can play against anybody, the best receivers,” Houston said. “In case you have two good receivers, I can guard on the other side as well.”
Over the past two years, Houston was inconsistent but had several bright moments. He has played in every game since stepping on campus in 2015, totaling 39 tackles, 11 pass breakups and a pair of interceptions.
And after Saturday’s performance, the hope is that he has turned the corner and can be an every-down player.
“We didn’t have a chance to redshirt him as a freshman,” coach Dawson Odums said. “I think he’s finally going into being a college football player. I think you can see the skill set that he has. He’s blessed with great speed.
“He always had a knack. He had uncles before him that were All-Americans at the schools they played at, and they were all DBs. ... It’s in him. I always knew that. I’m just happy to see him have some confidence and make some plays, because I really believe that’s going to raise the level of his talent.”
Houston’s big plays sparked a dominant day for the defense, crushing the offense at just about every turn — a welcome sight for a unit that felt the offense got the better of it in Southern's first preseason scrimmage.
Two plays after Houston’s first interception, a high snap resulted in Lampley being dropped for a safety. That was one of five sacks on the day.
The defense also recovered two fumbles, including a 30-yard scoop and score by linebacker Terrance Simon, who took advantage of another bad snap that sailed over the quarterback’s head.
The offense eventually scored three touchdowns, but not until late in the scrimmage, when many of the starters were relieved from duty. The offense failed to earn so much as a first down on four of its first six drives and struggled to move the ball under pressure from Southern's front seven.
“It just felt like we were all having fun playing football today,” defensive end Aaron Tiller said. “It didn’t feel like we were forcing ourselves to go out there or being sluggish. It felt like a natural, game-like environment where we all wanted to be out on the field. We were just getting after the ball, and we really pushed the effort today.”