A bitter loss can linger like a bad taste in the mouth. Fortunately for Southern football, there’s plenty to look forward to.
The season moves into the SWAC phase with the Jaguars playing Mississippi Valley State on Sunday for the first time in five years. The game kicks off at 2 p.m. in Jackson’s Veterans Memorial Stadium as part of the city’s Soul Filled Weekend celebration.
Southern squandered a 21-10 halftime lead at home in a 31-24 loss to McNeese State last week. The Jaguars want to prove they’ve learned something about finishing as they move forward against the Delta Devils.
“The nonconference games did a good job of preparing us to let us see where we are, what kind of things we need to work on going into conference play,” Southern linebacker Ray Anderson said. “We know we’ve got some things to tweak and tidy up before we get into it. This is when the second season, the fun season, begins. We want to show we’re a smart, physical and fast team, (hitting) on every cylinder on offense, defense and special teams.”
Southern wasted a strong first half in which quarterback Ladarius Skelton threw three touchdown passes. But Skelton committed two turnovers that led to 10 McNeese points in the second half as Southern was outscored 21-3.
The Jaguars also committed eight penalties, which equals their average for three games, and played poorly on special teams. McNeese returned a kickoff for a touchdown, blocked a punt and tackled Jaguars kickoff returner Chandler Whitfield on their 10-yard line.
“What I like least (so far this season) is our penalties,” coach Jason Rollins said. “When you get them cleaned up it's going to take care of a lot of those momentum-changing plays. We can’t play behind the sticks. We lost the turnover battle and a kickoff return for a touchdown is like another turnover.”
One thing Rollins wants to avoid this week is self-pity from his team, which is playing the perennial cellar-dweller in the SWAC East Division. Valley (0-2) is 6-45 in conference play during the past seven seasons and has lost six consecutive league games on the field.
One note of caution Rollins will likely serve up to his team is the Devils always manage to beat at least one conference foe. The Devils beat Arkansas-Pine Bluff three consecutive times and beat reigning league champ Alabama A&M twice in a three-year span.
Valley has scored one touchdown in losing to Murray State (35-0) and Stephen F. Austin (58-13). Coach Vincent Dancy has promised a hard look at which players are getting the most snaps with conference play arriving.
“We’re looking at a lot of different personnel changes,” Dancy said. “It starts with me. I’ve got to get our team prepared. When you are giving up touchdowns in all three phases of the game, you’ve got to look in the mirror and say what can I do better.
“I think we do have a good football team and those things are going to come. We have guys that need to play, high-rep guys that need to play to be better at the game.”
Southern might see some new faces and renewed vigor. Valley had an open date between losses and Dancy acknowledged how much it hurt his team.
The Jaguars will surely rely on a ground game that averages 184 yards per game and 5.1 yards per carry. Starting running back Devon Benn will miss the first half because he was ejected on a targeting call while making a tackle on an interception return. Craig Nelson, the team’s leading rusher, will start in his place.
Rollins is hoping for fewer mistakes from Skelton, who has completed 21 of 32 passes for 292 yards but has three interceptions. Skelton also had an errant lateral recovered by McNeese.
Both Skelton and defensive end Jordan Lewis are expected to be a full go. Both missed some snaps last week but finished last week’s game.
“Ladarius came out on fire, three big plays in the first half,” Rollins said. “He took a shot on the leg that has given him problems.
“Lewis will command everyone’s attention. He did a good job getting himself free for sacks and numerous quarterback pressures.”
Southern’s focus will be on Valley running back Caleb Johnson, who has rushed for 133 yards on 27 carries.
“They’re a physical football team,” Dancy said. “They want to establish the run regardless of which quarterback you see. We have got to stop the run and make them throw the ball.”