Southern coach Dawson Odums' career on the Bluffs has reached a point of symmetry as he prepares his team for a push in the final three weeks.
Odums will takes the Jaguars to meet Jackson State in his 90th game as head coach against the team he started it against as interim coach in the third game of the 2012 season.
“One, I didn’t know it was my 90th game, and (two) definitely didn’t know it was my first victory,” Odums said at Tuesday’s weekly press conference. “You live in the moment. You focus on the task at hand and look forward to the next challenge. You try to be better than you were yesterday.”
That’s exactly the example he’s trying to set for his players even with the Jaguars playing one of their long-standing and intense rivals. The teams collide at 2 p.m. Saturday in Jackson Veterans Memorial Stadium.
The mantra coming from Odums and his players has been to go 1-0 every week. If the Jaguars can do that twice more, they will find themselves in the Southwest Athletic Conference championship game for the second consecutive season.
Odums, who is 56-33 since taking over after Stump Mitchell was fired, led his team to a 28-21 victory that day and hasn’t forgotten what playing the Tigers means to fans and the program.
“Each week it gets bigger,” Odums said. “Each week our guys understand we’ve got to go to another level. It’s big because it’s the next one.”
The game could be a SWAC West Division clincher for Southern if Grambling loses to Mississippi Valley State on Saturday. But Southern also has an outside shot at playing host to the conference title game if it can win out. With two games left, the team is acting as if it has no margin for error.
“It’s like a playoff atmosphere now,” said defensive tackle Dakavion Champion. “We have to win out to get where we want to go. We’re excited to finish the season strong.”
Jackson State is also in the hunt in the East Division but needs help in the form of losses by Alabama A&M and Alabama State. The Tigers also have to win their remaining games against the Jaguars and East leader Alcorn State. But it’s a JSU team playing much better after some early season losses.
Unlike most SWAC teams, the Tigers are run first and have the added dimension of a running quarterback now that freshman Jalen Jones has taken control. JSU averages 194.1 yards per game, fourth in the league, and 4.6 yards per carry. Jones showed he’s ready to contribute with 130 yards on 18 carries in a 48-43 loss to Alabama A&M last week.
“They do approach the game differently, with a run-first mentality,” Odums said. “It’s kept them in a lot of games. If we fit the run we should be OK. They do a little bit of everything, and with Jones at quarterback they add the dimension of quarterback runs as well."
Southern might have an answer. The Jaguars are the SWAC’s top run-stopping team, allowing 102.7 yards per game and 3.1 per carry. But the Jaguars also have to play better on pass defense, which has been riddled in its last four conference games.
“Not getting off the field on third down, penalties on third down that allow drives to continue, not playing good third down defense,” said Odums, ticking off items that have plagued the Jaguars defensively. “In this game we have to be efficient on offensive and defensive third downs.”
Offensively, Southern will continue to ride quarterback Ladarius Skelton’s recent emergence. He has an outside chance to become the first Southern quarterback gain 1,000 yards or more running and passing. Skelton has passed for 1,169 yards and 10 touchdowns and rushed for 617 yards and nine scores.
Running back Devon Benn is even closer to the 1,000-yard mark with 676 yards and seven touchdowns on 128 carries for a 5.3 average. Southern leads the SWAC with 224.9 yards rushing per game.
“It hasn’t just been the offensive line,” guard Jeremiah Abby said. “It’s the receivers and tight ends blocking on the perimeter. As a team we take pride in our running game. But it takes all segments to produce.”
JSU players arrested
Three Jackson State football players were suspended Tuesday after they were arrested in two separate incidents, the Jackson Clarion-Ledger reported.
Sophomore Carl Jones and junior Jakasizer Glass, both linebackers, were arrested by Jackson State police on Tuesday and suspended.
Junior defensive lineman Trevarus Clark was suspended when it was discovered he had been arrested Oct. 29 and charged with vehicular manslaughter in connection to an April 18 crash that killed pedestrian Tiffany Harris in Byram, Mississippi. He was released two days after his arrest.
Odums owns a 7-1 record against Jackson State. The Tigers' last victory came in 2013 in a regular season game they won 19-14. Southern avenged that loss in the SWAC title game with a 34-27 overtime victory, the last time the Jaguars played an overtime game.
Odums will be facing one of his friends in the coaching profession in John Hendrick, a former Southern (1986) and LSU (1989-90) assistant. Hendrick was hired after going 2-1 as an interim head coach last season.
He was head coach at one other stop, Benedict College (2003-06) in Columbia, S.C. He also served as defensive coordinator at South Carolina State (2007).
“He’s a good mood man,” Odums said. “We talk in the offseason. I was happy for him when he got an opportunity to be a head coach. He’s been in coaching a long time. He’s been around a lot of great coaches.”