In the past four weeks, the Southern football team is 1-3, its three losses coming by four points, five points and three points.
It’s been a disappointing month for the Jaguars, who at times have faltered in almost every area - passing offense, rushing offense, special-teams units, run defense and the like.
One area, however, has been rock-steady: pass defense.
“Not bad at all,” second-year coach Stump Mitchell said, referring to his secondary.
Last season, Southern gave up a conference-high 25 touchdown passes.
Through six games this season, the Jaguars have allowed three. They rank second in the SWAC in pass defense, allowing 181.3 yards per game, and opposing quarterbacks have completed only 47 percent of their throws.
What’s made the difference?
It hasn’t hurt that sophomore Virgil Williams has grown into his role as a No. 1 cornerback, or that freshman LaMarkius Pettaway emerged from training camp as a clear-cut No. 2 corner.
It also hasn’t hurt that safeties Levi Jackson and Demetric Rogers have rebounded from disappointing seasons.
Jackson now ranks second on the team with 44 tackles, and Rogers is third with 40.
But Mitchell said an adjustment in scheme has helped the team more than anything else.
Last year, defensive coordinator O’Neill Gilbert often blitzed safeties and linebackers, gambling that the team could sack the quarterback or pressure him into making bad throws.
Instead, all too often, the Jaguars secondary got burned for big gains. In the first nine games last season, opponents gained 20 or more yards on 53 plays.
“It’s much better when you’ve got someone deep,” Mitchell said. “Now, we don’t have as many sacks as we had last year because we were bringing one more than they could block. But we’re giving up less points than we did last year. So I think the overall philosophy of the defense has changed to make a better defense.”
Mitchell also cited the work of secondary coach Donnie Henderson, a longtime NFL assistant who joined the staff just before training camp. Henderson replaced Otis Flowers, who was fired this summer.
The Jaguars (2-4, 2-2 Southwestern Athletic Conference) play at Arkansas-Pine Bluff (3-3, 2-2) in a matchup of two teams tied for second place in the Western Division.
The Golden Lions average 193.8 passing yards per game.
Not about the coaches?
Two days after Prairie View dropped Southern 23-20 at Mumford Stadium - and, in doing so, gave Heishma Northern a win over his alma mater - the Panthers first-year coach said he thought stories of his triumphant return were overblown.
“In my opinion, a lot of people wanted to make it out to be like Stump and I were playing one-on-one against each other, and not the two football teams from the respective universities,” Northern said Monday. “It was a good team win.”
Northern, Mitchell and Shaw University coach Darrell Asberry were the three lead candidates to replace Pete Richardson as SU coach in 2009. Mitchell got the job ahead of Northern, who had voiced concerns about the size of Southern’s staff (at the time, Prairie View had 10 assistant coaches, whereas SU had six full-time assistants).
A few of the bus trips planned for Southern’s game at Arkansas-Pine Bluff:
6TH MAN CLUB: The bus will leave at 6 a.m. Saturday from 4523 Plank Rd. and return to Baton Rouge after the game. The cost is $125 and includes a game ticket and tailgating. For information, call Anna Jones at (225) 907-7212, Freddie Green at (225) 388-9403, or Elijah Wilkinson at (225) 355-9249.
SU UNIFICATION ORGANIZATION: The bus will leave from 1233 Government St. and stay overnight in Pine Bluff. The cost is $190 for a single person and $240 for a couple; it includes hotel, game ticket and postgame party. For information, call Leo Williams at (225) 355-6886 or (225) 357-3833.
BLUE & GOLD CLUB: The cost is $115 per person and includes a game ticket, tailgating and refreshments. The hotel cost is $65 per room. For information, call Craig Pierre at (225) 324-7234, Robert Square at (225) 931-4052, Eddie Braxton at (225) 654-7245 or Arthur Jack at (225) 315-8682.