Southern might be peaking just in time for Bayou Classic, but Grambling will be true test _lowres

Advocate staff photo by HILARY SCHEINUK -- Southern defensive tackle Gabe Echols (90) sacks Alabama A&M quarterback Damion May (3), Saturday, November 14, 2015, at Southern's A.W. Mumford Stadium in Baton Rouge, La.

Southern won’t be going to the Southwestern Athletic Championship game for the first time in three years.

Grambling (8-0 in the SWAC) already has clinched the West division title going into the regular-season finale against the Jaguars (6-2) in the Bayou Classic on Saturday in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.

But as it has done in the past two seasons, Southern may peaking down the stretch. After effectively dropping out of the division race with a 48-7 loss to Alcorn State on Oct. 31, the Jaguars have won their past two games by a combined score 103-31.

They ran and passed with such efficiency that they started pulling starters early in the second half. They played solid defense and won the turnover battle before substituting liberally on that side of the ball as well. Though the special teams didn’t have the big returns they had early in the season, they mostly avoided breakdowns.

“I think we’re peaking at the right time,” linebacker Daniel Brown said. “I feel like we’re putting it all together.”

Tackle Reginald Redding provided one caveat to the resurgence conversation though.

“I think we’re doing a way better job,” he said, “but then again we haven’t beaten a team with a winning record yet.”

Actually, Southern beat Alabama State on Oct. 10 and the Hornets moved to 5-4 in the league with a victory last week.

But Redding did bring up a valid point regarding Southern’s resurgence. How much of it has to do with its improvement and how much has to do with the level of competition?

The Jaguars went into an open date last week after a 46-7 victory against Alabama A&M (2-6 in the SWAC) and a week before that they beat Arkansas-Pine Bluff 57-24. The Golden Lions were winless in the SWAC at the time, though they finished 1-8 after beating Mississippi Valley State in their season finale last Saturday.

“We haven’t played the talent level of Grambling the last two games,” wide receiver Mike Jones said. “We’ve played teams at the lower end of the conference.”

The Tigers are 8-0 and ranked No. 1 in the rankings of Historically Black Colleges and Universities. After Grambling and Southern, the only teams with winning records in the SWAC are Alabama State, Alcorn and Prairie View. In addition to the lopsided loss to Alcorn, the Jaguars fell to Prairie View 47-42.

“It’ll be a real test to see where we’re at when we play Grambling, when we play a team with a winning record,” Redding said, “especially one that’s undefeated in the conference.”

Though the competition the last two games wasn’t the toughest, Southern has won back-to-back games for the first time since beating Mississippi Valley State and Jackson State in games two and three.

The Jaguars, 6-4 overall, have won their last 11 games in November.

Coach Dawson Odums has stressed consistency in November. So far, so good in that regard, and a win over Grambling would end the season on a high note.

“Right now, in the month of November, I don’t think anybody’s playing as good as we are,” Odums said. “That’s how we like it. We just wish there was more at stake. We like to be playing our best in November, because we’re usually playing for something, and we want to continue that momentum in the offseason. So this is a big one — 7-4 sounds a whole lot better than 6-5.”

The stakes Saturday aren’t as high as the Jaguars would prefer, but there’s still something to prove.

“It’s a big game for us to go out here and prove we’re still the Jaguars,” nose guard Gabe Echols said.