After the NCAA legislated some of the contact work out of fall practice, Southern is trying to get it back as quickly as possible.
Jaguars coach Jason Rollins said his team is making progress there after having issues during the first two games.
“We made a big jump (tackling against McNeese),” Rollins said of his defense’s performance Saturday. “It was night and day. It was reflected in the stats. That team ran 48 times for a 3.6 average. That’s reflective of how well you’re tackling.”
The overall results were good, too. Southern allowed 263 yards despite losing 31-24. The Jaguars forced three field goals and four punts, a vast improvement from its game against Miles College the week before. Miles rushed for 200 yards and piled up 24 first downs.
Rollins said teams have had to build up their physicality during the early part of the season through the tackling in games. The timing is good for Southern’s improvement with the SWAC opener Sunday at 2 p.m. against Mississippi Valley State in Jackson.
The NCAA reduced the number of fall practice scrimmages to two, full contact practices to nine and the number of days in full pads from 21 to 18. It increased the number of days from five to seven before a team can don full pads at the start of camp. Teams can hold contact sessions for no more than two consecutive days and the contact sessions can last no more than 75 minutes.
The NCAA eliminated altogether the Oklahoma Drill, a one-on-one, full-contact session.
“You don’t get better tackling until you tackle, so it’s going to be an ongoing thing,” Rollins said. “You can have all the tackling drills you want but you can never simulate full speed contact. That gets cleaned up as we go. It’s not a Southern University issue. That’s an NCAA issue. We’re working on finding a happy medium.”
Southern linebacker Ray Anderson said he and his teammates embraced the issue and worked in practice to improve their wrapping up and finishing tackles.
“Our whole group takes that to heart,” Anderson said. “(Coach Rollins) didn’t say it in an insulting way, but we took it as an insult. We know that’s our identity, it’s our job to stop the run. We had to turn it up a notch in practice.”
McNeese State had only three plays of 25 yards or longer and Cowboy wide receivers had only 19 yards after contact. The Jaguars had four tackles for losses, three of those sacks.
Anderson said not all of the problems were about being physical and the veteran defense with 10 of 11 starters returning focused harder on attention to detail. He said he’s expecting continued improvement.
“One beautiful thing about football is things don’t always go as planned and you’ve got to go back to the drawing board and start from scratch,” Anderson said. “We’ve got the guys in the room that always know when we’ve got the challenge in front of us, we’ve got to accept it and go full throttle. We adjusted in practice and got every guy focused on it. In the game it shows, and we’ve got to continue to build on that each week.”