The elephant in the room for Southern entering the 21st annual Southwest Athletic Conference championship game is represented by a pair of numerals – 1 and 9.
In the past 10 meetings with Alcorn State, the Jaguars have one victory and while coach Dawson Odums and his players acknowledge the imbalance between the teams, they’re treating as inconsequential.
They aren’t looking at it as motivation, even with a 27-13 loss to the Braves Oct. 26.
“The success we’ve had since that game to now, we didn’t let that loss dictate our season,” Odums said. “We have an opportunity to get that bad taste out of our mouths.
“It’s been a combination of things, but you narrow it down to execution,” Odums said of the disparity. “The last few times we’ve played them it’s been up and down. Can we get our offense and defense playing well together? It’s time for us to play our best.”
Southern (8-4) travels to Alcorn (8-3) for the second consecutive season with the conference title on the line at 3 p.m. in Spinks-Casem Stadium in Lorman, Miss. The winner moves on to the Celebration Bowl in Atlanta Dec. 21.
Alcorn has won four consecutive games in the series with the last Southern win by 41-33 in 2016. But Odums pointed out that none of those games matter except as a learning tool. The Jaguar players are taking the cue.
“It’s definitely going to start with a great week of practice,” senior center Jaylon Brinson said of the team preparation. “We’re homing in on that. We’re focused on whatever we messed up or weren’t efficient on in the first game, or the guys who played against them last year working on that . We’re making sure we’re locked in on every play to take advantage of our opportunities.”
Southern has won four consecutive games since that loss, including last week’s 30-28 Bayou Classic victory against Grambling State. Southern rallied from a 21-3 deficit and finished strong, holding Grambling to seven points in the second half.
“Our guys are coming together but we still haven’t played that complete, dominant game,” Odums said. “What you are starting to see is a competitive spirit, will to win. We’ve been behind a lot and our guys have sustained that. You can see the will. That lets us know something is going on. You have to believe in it and trust in it.”
Southern will be looking for ways to improve its fortunes running the ball against the Braves, who allowed only 75 yards rushing to the SAWC’s top rushing offense (226.8 yards per game). The Jaguars led 6-3 at halftime but threw an interception in the end zone to kill an excellent opportunity on their first possession.
Alcorn State rallied to score24 unanswered points in the second half with the help of another interception to put the game away.
“We had chances,” Odums said. “We left 21 points or so on the field the first time. We didn’t run the ball to our liking. The reason we win is we run the football and we weren’t able to as good as we have in the past.”
The Jaguars’ running game has improved since then. Southern put 208 yards on Grambling last week, led by freshman Jarod Sims with 89 yards and two touchdowns. He gives them another option along with quarterback Ladarius Skelton (824 yards, 12 TDs) and running back Devon Benn (793 yards, seven TDs). Sims boosted his season total to 248 yards with three scores.
Defensively the Jaguars did a respectable job, allowing 100 yards rushing on 35 carries, but had trouble stopping quarterback Felix harper, who threw for 277 yards and two touchdowns, and ran for another touchdown. Southern defensive backs had trouble matching up with the bigger Braves receivers, particularly Chris Blair, who caught three for 108 yards.
“Last time out we didn’t defend the pass well,” Odums said. “Our secondary has to be ready to accept the challenge. We’ll do some things we did before a lot better because we understand who we’re going against. Hopefully we will have a little more success.”
Tickets on sale
Tickets for the SWAC title game are on sale at the school ticket office from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. through Thursday and 9-1 p.m. on Friday. Tickets are $37 and a limited supply of student tickets are available for $22 with Southern student ID.