Football teams flagged for targeting penalties often are victims of bad luck. It’s hard for defenders to judge while running full speed toward a ball carrier where that player’s helmet might be in relation to his own.
After three games, Southern looks like it has been targeted with targeting calls.
The Jaguars had two more in last week’s loss to McNeese State. Defensive back Kaymen St. Junious was ejected in the second quarter after a helmet-to-helmet hit on quarterback Cody Orgeron, who was sliding to the ground after a scramble. In the second half, running back Devon Benn — who seldom is called on to make a tackle — was flagged for his hit on Jarrius Wallace’s interception return.
Southern opens its Southwestern Athletic Conference schedule with a different kind of challenge for coach Jason Rollins.
Safety Chase Foster and defensive end Lyston Barber were penalized in the opener against Troy, and defensive end Jalen Ivy was called for targeting in the victory against Miles College.
Southern will be without Benn, its starting running back, for the first half of Sunday’s game against Mississippi Valley State Sunday in Jackson, Miss.
Rollins said he was assured by the Southwestern Athletic Conference office that Benn’s hit was questionable, that the contact was made with his shoulder and the flag probably flew because Wallace’s helmet came off. Rollins termed the rule “harsh” but said his team will continue emphasizing technique.
“We have discussions with the players — betterment, not punishment — to make them do better,” Rollins said. “It’s a fine line. You emphasize tackling and aggression. (If we’d had replays) two of them would have been overturned.”
Southern linebacker Ray Anderson concurs. He said it’s hard to play aggressive and not have a helmet to helmet hit not occur.
“It’s tough on the defender when you have offensive guys dipping their head,” Anderson said. “When I launch to make a tackle it’s hard to stop in mid-air, but we have to be accountable.
The way Southern University has run the ball this football season is what pleases first-year head coach Jason Rollins the most.
“Obviously we want to be a physical defense; that’s our identity. We want guys to leave the field and say, ‘Wow that was a physical defense.’ At the same time we’ve got to learn to be smart. We have to avoid those plays and work on our technique more. We have to clean it up.”
St. Junious’ hit was a good example. He moved in for the tackle on a scrambling Orgeron, who suddenly went into a slide, changing the placement of his helmet. Rollins said he and his staff spend a lot of time on technique to prevent targeting hits.
“We teach hawk-tackling, run through the guy, wrap and roll,” he said. “The Seattle Seahawks have a whole clinic on how to tackle. On a bang-bang play and you’re going in to tackle, wrap and roll, a quarterback can slide at the same time. It’s all in the eye of the officiating crew.”
Because Benn has to sit out the first half of Sunday’s game, Craig Nelson will start in his place. Nelson is the team’s leading rusher with 197 yards and a touchdown on 23 carries. He is primed for his first start.
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“I feel great,” he said. “I’ve been preparing for this moment, hopefully I do good this Sunday. The running game has been going good. That’s our bread and butter, so we’re going to use it and hopefully it will be effective this Sunday.
“I’ve been working real hard in the weight room all summer and spring. I feel more comfortable running the ball this season. The running game has grown every week. The offensive line is the best in the SWAC, so we can run the ball effectively.”