It amazing what happens when a little bit of light is shed on a football player’s game. He finds himself playing faster and sometimes he just finds things he never saw coming — like the ball.
It’s happened that way for Southern senior defensive end Joe Davis. He’s playing with a consistency he hadn’t shown before as the Jaguars prepare for a big home matchup against Prairie View A&M at 6 p.m. Saturday.
“As you get close to the end of your rope, sometimes it takes a little while for that light bulb to come on,” Southern coach Dawson Odums said. “It’s come on for Joe Davis. He definitely has next level talent. He’s starting to play like that’s something he wants to do.
“Each week he comes out there he can be dominant. He’s had the kind of season we thought he could have his whole career.”
Davis showed it in the Jaguars 31-7 victory at Arkansas-Pine Bluff. He had four tackles, including two sacks, and his first career interception with a 21-yard return that set up a touchdown to give Southern a 14-0 lead.
The pick showed Davis enhanced sense of awareness.
“The week before, I was looking at their tendencies on film to see what they were doing,” said Davis, a 6-feet-2, 235-pound New Orleans native who played at Clark High School. “It felt like I’d been there before as the play unfolded. It was the wide receiver coming for a tunnel screen. I felt the lineman release and I stepped in front of it. I was just telling myself to run. I’ve got to get some more.
“Getting more reps, being in the class room studying film and going harder in the weight room has helped. It’s the fruits of my labor finally showing up. I was just waiting on my time.”
Davis is part of a Southern team that leads the SWAC in rushing defense, allowing 104.2 yards per game and 2.9 yards per carry, and is second in overall defense. Davis has three sacks among his seven tackles for loss, which ties him for fourth in the league in both categories. He had seven tackles, one sack and 3.5 tackles for loss against Florida A&M.
Overall, Davis is fourth on the team with 23 tackles. No one is happier to see Davis performing so well than defensive line coach Skylar Jones. He said Davis, who has started since his sophomore season, has shown flashes but only this season has got into a weekly groove.
“It was up and down with him, Jones said. “One week you start him and the next you don’t. He’s finally putting it all together. It’s showing in his play. He came into camp with a different mindset.
“He does a good job stopping the run and can rush the passer. He does everything you want him to do when you want him to do it and how you want him to do it. Against Florida A&M, he played like a grown man, like the Joe Davis we expect to play. His size his length and strength he has everything you look for in a D-lineman.”
Davis said Jones and his teammates teased him for the running moves he showed on his interception return.
“Coach said he was going to work with me on my running ability,” Davis said. “A couple of the guys were clowning me that I should have scored. It was all in fun, joking around.”
Linebacker Caleb Carter said it’s no joke how much of a force Davis has become on the Southern defense, but that Davis also has a way with loosening up the defense in tense moments.
“He’s a big guy with a big motor and hard to stop,” Carter said. “He plays hard. It’s always about the last snap. He’s a funny guy. He tells a lot of jokes to lighten up the mood.”
Davis’ performance has helped Southern’s pass rush with sophomore end Jordan Lewis struggling the past two games with an ankle injury. With Lewis 100 percent opponents are going to have to leave one of them against a single blocker.
With Prairie View coming in with an offensive juggernaut, pressure on quarterback Jalen Morton is going to be a key for Southern this weekend as well as trying to slow down Dawonya Tucker, the SWAC’s leading rusher averaging 8.2 yards per carry.
“We’ve got a big challenge ahead,” Davis said. “We’ve got to play our best football. They have a senior led backfield and it will be important to protect the edge. Everybody has to do their job.”