As this long season began, two of the biggest questions for Southern centered on how the Jaguars would replace the exceptional talents of Lenard Tillery and Willie Quinn.
After eight games, it appears those answers are starting to crystallize: The Jaguars might not have the same star power that they had a year ago, but they can mask that with creative concepts that put the ball in several playmakers’ hands.
That idea was best represented last week, when Southern completed passes to 10 different players, racking up a season-best 47 points and 487 yards of total offense in a 47-40 win over Arkansas-Pine Bluff.
“Our offense is a challenge (to defend),” Southern coach Dawson Odums said. “We shift, we motion, we change personnel. We do more with this group than we did in the previous years.”
With Tillery and Quinn, Southern didn’t care if opposing defenses tried to make stopping them a priority, because their ability usually beat whatever scheme the defense threw at them.
The idea this season is essentially the opposite. By spreading the offensive wealth, Southern couldn't allow opposing teams to lock in on which player might hurt them on a given play.
“We’re always talking about adapting our scheme to fit the pieces of the puzzle,” Odums said. “You had Lenard Tillery, you could hand the ball off. You had to respect Willie Quinn, so your secondary had to tip (its hand).
“Now, you don’t really know who these guys are, so you’re having to play vanilla.”
It helps that Southern has a four-year starter at quarterback to direct the varied looks.
Austin Howard’s experience and skill at reading defenses played to his favor last week, when he completed passes to nine receivers (a 10th, Stacy Piro, caught a pass from backup John Lampley).
“With Austin, we continue to harp on going through your progression, and he’s done a phenomenal job of that,” quarterbacks coach Matt Leone said.
The week before, in a 35-17 at Jackson State, eight different receivers caught passes. The week before that, a 35-14 homecoming win against Alabama A&M, nine different receivers caught passes. Southern won all three games while averaging 39 points.
“That just tells defenses that you can’t keep your eye on one receiver,” Howard said. “Anybody could get it; anybody could catch the ball. When I spread the ball around, good things happen, playmakers make plays.”
Under Odums, the goal has always been to keep things simple, with the idea being that it is easier to execute a few concepts at a high level than it is with an expansive playbook.
But the Jaguars this season are trying to maximize those few core plays by running them out of various formations — one, two or sometimes three tight ends — while also incorporating motions, shifts and unbalanced lines.
“It’s really a great scheme to fit the talent that we have this year. … (Offensive coordinator Chennis) Berry and the offensive guys have done a great job making that scheme feasible for the guys that we have,” Odums said.