Football coaches hope the season opener provides answers to any questions about the team that lingered from the preseason.
But, if anything, Southern’s 45-6 loss at Louisiana-Lafayette on Saturday raised more questions than it answered for Dawson Odums and his staff.
First and foremost, what is going to happen with the five players who were left behind after an 11th-hour attempt to certify them academically lasted dangerously close to midnight? Finally the Jaguars could wait no more, and the busses were off to Lafayette, arriving at Cajun Field a mere 45 minutes before kickoff.
If the players in question weren’t significant contributors, the Jaguars would have left two hours earlier as scheduled. But these were a handful of players that figured to be vital to Southern’s chances of keeping the game respectable against the deeper and more talented Ragin’ Cajuns.
The Jaguars opened the season without senior linebacker Daniel Brown, easily one of the most important players on the team, both from a performance and leadership standpoint. That side of the ball took another hit with the absence of safety Renaldo Thomas, a transfer from Tulane ticketed to start.
The offensive line was hit the hardest. Starting left tackle Reginald Redding was absent, which would have led to a shuffling of the line and the insertion of Terrell Lee into the lineup. But Lee wasn’t on the bus, either, leading to another change up front.
Fortunately for Southern, the other player left behind — running back Malcolm Crockett — is part of one of the deepest units on the team. Nonetheless, he had emerged from camp on top of the heap.
So Odums and his staff start preparing for their home opener with unanswered questions.
Will these players return?
If so, when?
If not, when will we know for sure?
There was no news Sunday, but Southern hopes to have some clarity this week.
The game itself produced some new football-related questions, though that’s not necessarily a bad thing.
Does true freshman quarterback Austin Howard deserve a bigger role than originally planned? He played more than starter Deonte Shorts on Saturday because he played better than Shorts, a redshirt freshman who earned the start at least partly because of an extra year in the offense. But it would have been hard to just watch the performances Saturday and discern which quarterback had the experience edge.
Crockett’s absence created more opportunities for the running backs, and it was former White Castle standout Tyre Bracken, a late arrival in camp after transferring from Southern Miss, who benefited the most. He had 15 of the Jaguars’ 32 carries and gained 46 of their 77 rushing yards.
Does Bracken deserve a move up the depth chart, regardless of Crockett’s status?
Do true freshmen Danny Johnson of East Feliciana, who had a head-turning camp, and Bryan Anderson of Edna Karr deserve more opportunities in the secondary, regardless of Thomas’ status, after each intercepted Terrance Broadway?
These football questions are no doubt ones that Odums and his staff began addressing Sunday. Fortunately for them, they have two more nonconference games to find answers before they open Southwestern Athletic Conference play Sept. 20 at Prairie View.
Next up is an NAIA opponent called Central Methodist, which should let Odums and his staff look at a variety of players in game conditions to try to find some clear answers.
As for the non-football stuff, the university has another week to try to sort that out — and no pesky bus to catch if this mess drags into gameday again.