Southern’s overall performance in Saturday’s 51-23 victory against Texas Southern is the kind that makes a coach smile, then wants to bottle it and bring it back the next week.
How sweet would that have been for the Jaguars with arch-nemesis Alcorn State originally set for a visit to A.W. Mumford Stadium next week. Alas, that game won’t be played in the pandemic-compressed spring season since the Braves opted out.
Southern coach Dawson Odums will have to be satisfied with the smile and another open date, but at least the Jaguars are on the right track after putting together their most complete game in two seasons at the halfway point.
The offense put up 442 yards, led by a dominant running game and had four touchdown passes. The defense shut down the run, came up with three sacks, a safety and a turnover. And special teams scored a touchdown for the second straight week and added a turnover of its own.
“We’re a football team that gets better as the year goes along,” Odums said. “We played well together, complemented each other. We were in sync tonight.”
Most obvious was the play of quarterback Ladarius Skelton, who had two weeks to simmer over his unfortunate decision which led to a penalty and benching against Arkansas-Pine Bluff. Saturday he looked like the offense belonged to him. His number was called in the option game much more often than the first two games and it set the tone. With the Tigers defense wary of his keepers, the rest of the Jaguars deep backfield averaged 5.5 yards per carry.
“He gave us a chance,” Odums said. “He was in full control.”
Even when he wasn’t, it didn’t hurt the Jaguars effort. John Lampley threw two passes, both for touchdowns, one when Skelton left with an injury. His running set the stage for two TD runs by Jarodd Simms and 256 yards rushing overall.
As promised, the tight ends have become a major part of the offense, blocking for the running game and catching passes. Freshman tight end Ethan Howard caught two TD passes, giving the position three for the season.
“We played all four running backs and you can see we have some depth at that position,” Odums said. “Sims has continued to improve.”
The defense made plays early, taking advantage of a bad snap to force a safety on a sack by Jordan Lewis for an early 9-0 lead. The Jaguars made the night a struggle for first-time TSU starter Jalen Brown. The Tigers averaged less than 3 yards per carry.
Southern may have also found a new weapon in kick returner Shykee Thomas, a forgotten veteran who shined when given another chance. His 98-yard kickoff return for a score came at a pivotal moment in the game when TSU cut the Jaguars lead to 16-14 right before halftime.
“Speedy (Kendric Jones) has been our returner,” Odums said. “Shykee was our returner a few years ago. I told him, ‘I’m coming back to you; you’re going to get your chance.’ He can run, that’s one thing he can do. I was happy for him. He deserved it. He worked his butt off, those guys did a great job of doing their job so he could have success and get the ball in the end.”
No doubt, Odums would like to play Saturday but it doesn’t hurt to have time to get ready for a trip to Jackson State to see if the Tigers are for real under former NFL superstar Deion Sanders. Odums was quick to caution that his team was far from perfect Saturday with three games left.
“We made some mistakes but we’re getting better, that’s the biggest thing on this journey,” he said. “As a team we played well. We’ve still got a lot of room to improve.”