Southern’s open date this week gives it an opportunity to analyze the first month of the season before entering the heart of the Southwestern Athletic Conference schedule.
The Jaguars are just 2-2, but most importantly they are 2-0 in the SWAC, and so far they have been about as well-rounded a team as they could be in a 50-13 win at Mississippi Valley State and a 50-31 victory against Jackson State in their only home game.
In SWAC games, Southern is second in the league in scoring offense and total offense as well as second in scoring defense and total defense. Offensively, it ranks third in rushing and fourth in passing yards (first in passing efficiency). It is second in rushing defense and sixth in passing yardage defense (second in pass efficiency defense.)
“I think we’ve been able to run the football, I think we’ve been able to throw the football,” coach Dawson Odums said. “On defense, I think we’ve been able to stop the run and I think we’ve been able to stop the pass and I think we’re getting better at doing that.”
If there was concern about an Achilles’ heel at the start of the season, it would have been the secondary. The Jaguars lost three projected starters to ineligibility and injury, leaving the secondary as the least experienced unit on the team.
After the defense gave up 587 yards in an opening 62-15 loss at Louisiana Tech, Odums moved Martin Henry and Roshaud Turner from linebacker to nickelback, but Turner had to move back to linebacker a week later when Demetrius Carter suffered a season-ending torn Achilles.
But the rebuilt secondary has six interceptions and gave up a respectable 271 yards in a 48-6 loss to Georgia on Saturday.
“After last week’s game, even though we suffered a loss we felt the team played hard and we showed a lot of heart,” running back Lenard Tillery said, “so going back into conference play we’re just looking toward trying to dominate every week, executing and staying healthy.”
The Jaguars were dominant in their first two league games. Their next game is Oct. 19 at Alabama State.
“I think we accomplished everything that we wanted to,” Odums said of the opening month. “We played the first game and we wanted to get better the second game in a short turnaround and I thought we were able to do that.
“You get a chance to play Valley and you win that football game, and you get a chance to play Jackson State and you win that football game. So coming out of September, you’re 2-0 in the conference and that’s the best you could ask for.”
The players said the opening month was especially tiring, not only because it included two games against FBS opponents, but also because it included three road trips, the first two happening less than a week apart.
“We’ve got a tired football team,” Odums said.
After hitting the road again next week, Southern will play four of its last six games in Louisiana, including the annual regular-season finale against Grambling in the Bayou Classic in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.
“A lot of guys felt that the first four games were going to have a big impact and be a big predictor of how the season was going to go,” Tillery said. “Just watching film, we’re pretty much where we thought we would be.”
The Jaguars practiced Tuesday and Wednesday and will do so again Thursday before taking off Friday and Saturday. They’ll resume a game-week routine when they work out Sunday.
“I’m just proud of my guys — the total effort all around from week one to Week 4,” quarterback Austin Howard said. “I love the effort. I love the unity that we have as a team.”
The team was rocked last weekend when reserve wide receiver Devon Gales suffered a severe spinal injury while blocking on a kickoff return. He had surgery Sunday and remains hospitalized in Atlanta.