The 2019 Southern University football team traveled deep into the heart of Arkansas, more than 300 miles, to finally find itself.
The Jaguars left little doubt they played their best game this season in a 31-7 dismantling of a streaking Arkansas-Pine Bluff squad.
Southern literally seized the initiative by winning the coin toss and taking the ball to assert itself offensively. The defense was even better, giving up some yardage but shutting down a multi-talented offense and holding it 30 points below its season scoring average.
It was a lot more than a return home for quarterback Ladarius Skelton, who ran for three touchdowns. It was the return of the Southern team that finished the 2018 regular season with a five-game winning streak and a West Division title.
“That’s the team tonight we thought we had,” Southern coach Dawson Odums said. “It took us a little while to put it together. If we play like that going forward, we’re going to be a pretty good football team. The hardest thing we have to do is duplicate success.”
The outcome was similar in many ways to last year’s 38-0 victory at Prairie View A&M that started that winning streak. The Jaguars went on the road and dominated. Odums is hoping Saturday’s game has a similar effect.
“It’s October now; it’s hunting season,” he said. “The deer and wild boar are moving. It’s time to get some of that game meat on the grill. Our guys know in October, Ol’ Blue has got to get on the truck. If we want to play well in December, we have to hunt in October.”
Not right away, since the Jaguars have an open date before hosting Prairie View Oct. 12. But that’s a good thing for Southern, which can get some injuries healed and tinker some more with the offense that showed great consistency.
Skelton played every snap and while he didn’t dominate with his passing, he was part of a rushing attack that pounded out 269 yards and averaged 5.5 yards per carry. Skelton rushed for 47 yards on eight carries, and showed patience in the pocket while hitting 17 of 25, mostly short and intermediate throws.
Wide receiver T.J. Bedford also had an outstanding game with nine catches for 83 yards to convert some crucial third downs.
Chris Chaney had a career high 107 yards and Devon Benn went for 96. Southern ran the ball on 52 of 77 plays and owned a 34:58 to 25:02 edge in time of possession. Even better was the Jaguars on third down, converting 10 of 15, and one for one on fourth down.
“You saw how No. 8 (Skelton) played today,” Odums said. “He was good. When he plays well, we have a chance against anybody. The reason we executed was because he played well.”
Defensively, Southern got after the UAPB quarterback duo of Skyler Perry and Shannon Patrick with a hot pass rush, while the run defense corralled Taeyler Porter. UAPB managed only 61 yards on 25 carries and Porter went for 59 on 19 carries, but never broke a big gainer. His longest carry was 10 yards and only two went more than 4.
Southern cornerbacks Tamaurice Smith and Jordan Eastling came up with huge interceptions to stop the Lions from scoring. Smith’s came on a jump ball in the end zone, and Eastling’s at the Southern 3-yard line just before halftime.
Explosive Lions receiver Dejuan Miller caught six passes for 87 yards but never could bust a big play for a score. UAPB entered having outscored its opponents 54-15 in the third quarter but was shut out in the second half.
“They were explosive and have some really talented players,” Odums said. “We had to find a way to take No. 1 (Dejuan Miller) away. He’s as good as any football player in our conference.
“They’ve been running the ball against everybody. We had to be assignment sound and our guys were really locked in.”