Southern spent much of the past week trying to improve its third-down defense.
The Jaguars had the worst third-down defense in Southwestern Athletic Conference play, allowing opposing offenses to convert 53 percent of the time.
But in its 40-21 victory against Texas Southern on Saturday at rain-soaked BBVA Compass Stadium in Houston, Southern pretty much dominated the Tigers on every down.
Texas Southern had six first downs, minus-2 rushing yards, 94 passing yards and 92 total yards — for the game.
The defense was especially dominant in the second half, when Southern outscored TSU 19-0.
The tone was set on the first possession of the third quarter when Daniel Brown sacked Averion Hurts and caused a fumble that Aaron Tiller recovered at the TSU 11. That set up what proved to be the decisive touchdown.
It also was a sign of what the rest of the half looked like. Brown had 3½ of the six sacks that the Jaguars had after halftime. On the Tigers’ second-to-last possession, Ki-Jana Curtis added in an interception to the defense’s laundry list of big plays.
Though the defense pushed TSU backward more than the Tigers went forward in the second half, the defense was better early than the 21-all halftime score might suggest.
TSU hit one big play — a 54-yard touchdown pass — but the other touchdown drives covered 12 yards after a fumble recovery and 18 yards after a blocked punt.
“They took advantage of a short field,” Southern coach Dawson Odums said.
Odums said last week that the defensive front was pressuring quarterbacks and even hitting them with reasonable frequency.
The Jaguars were tied for third in the SWAC with 14 sacks, but Odums felt a stronger pass rush was needed to help a young secondary that was having trouble defending passes beyond the first-down markers, or tackling underneath receivers before they reached the markers.
So Southern came up with its most dominant pass rush in recent memory, totaling eight sacks.
And it wasn’t just an improved pass rush helping the secondary, it was also the reverse.
“They’ve been getting close all year,” Odums said of the pass rushers. “Today they finally had the coverage behind them.”
Twelve 12 players had a hand in 17 tackles for loss, led by Brown with four and Tiller, Christian Allen and Roshaud Turner with two each. Turner had a team-high nine total tackles.
The coverage was primarily concerned with 6-foot-7 Derrick Griffin, one of the most productive receivers in the SWAC this season.
Griffin was never able to exploit his height advantage, in large part because Hurts and his two replacements, both of whom also got sacked, mostly had to start scrambling before they could try and get the ball to Griffin, who finished with a mere one catch for 7 yards.
Still, Griffin was the Tigers third-most productive receiver. Scotlandville graduate Larry Clark III and Malik Cross had two catches each and a touchdown apiece.
Running back Darrell Robinson had the most catches for TSU, grabbing three, but he netted minus-7 yards, negating Griffin’s yardage.
The stifling defense led to 10 TSU punts and enabled Southern — which was possessing the ball an average of just 27:40 per game — to hold it for 35:22.
Oh, and as for those pesky third downs — the Tigers were 2-for-12.
Follow Les East on Twitter: @EastAdvocate.