The Southern football team got a shot of good medicine at just the right time in its season.
There were plenty of feel-good moments in the Jaguars 61-0 demolition of the NAIA's Edward Waters College on Saturday, but it was the way his team performed that had coach Dawson Odums smiling, especially with the next team in the queue.
Southern (1-2) travels to Tallahassee, Florida, to tackle perennial rival Florida A&M in a renewal of the oldest non-conference rivalry among HBCUs. The teams have met 61 times, but only seven since 2000. The last was Odums' second game as interim coach in 2012 when the Jaguars pulled out a 21-14 victory in the Atlanta Football Classic in the Georgia Dome.
With that in mind, Odums felt his team needed affirmation after starting the season 0-2.
“We got what the doctor ordered, a good prescription,” Odums said Tuesday. “Back-to-back games with no turnovers. That’s improvement. When you play a team like Edward Waters, you want to make sure your team doesn’t have a letdown, that you play up to an expectation. We haven’t met the expectation but we’re closing in on it.
“This opponent is going to be tough. They play very well at home. It’s tough to win up there.”
Along with the improved ball security and a strong running game that produced 407 yards and seven touchdowns, Odums saw his defense force four turnovers and hold the visitors to 51 yards rushing. To him, it’s an indicator that things are falling into place for his squad.
FAMU represents a difficult road test before an expected sellout crowd. The Rattlers (1-1) were picked to finish third in the MEAC, are coming off a 57-20 rout of Fort Valley State and are a perfect opponent to set the Jaguars up for the SWAC opener at Arkansas-Pine Bluff the following week.
“This is usually the time of year you start feeling out what kind of a team you have,” Odums said. “The quarterback throws the ball as well as anybody we’ve seen, they’re talented at wide receiver and running back. Defensively, they fly around and make plays.”
Quarterback Ryan Stanley makes the Rattlers go. He has connected on 27 of 55 passes for 327 yards and three touchdowns. He is 973 yards from breaking the school record for career yards passing. Stanley isn’t a big running threat, but his quick release makes him hard to sack or affect with the pass rush.
Azende Ray has 10 catches for 87 yards and two touchdowns and David Manigo nine for 126 and one touchdown.
“He does a great job of getting the ball out of his hands,” Odums said. “It’s going to be our defensive line against their offensive line and our offensive line against their defensive line. That’s where the game will be won or lost.”
Southern’s antidote to Stanley could be sophomore defensive end Jordan Lewis, who scored a touchdown for the second consecutive game on a 95-yard interception return. Edward Waters schemed Lewis and held him without a sack or a tackle for the first time this season, but Odums said that opened up the pass rush to others. Donovan White and Christopher Thomas each picked up sacks and the Jaguars had decent pressure on Tiger quarterbacks all night.
“That’s the challenge this week. Can we get to their quarterback?” Odums said. “He’s one of the best in the MEAC. If you are going to pay attention to a certain guy (Lewis), we have guys with the ability to get home.”
The Rattlers like to pressure the quarterback and produced seven sacks last week with a variety of blitzes. Odums joked that in 65 first half plays, they blitzed 65 times, and he expects them to come after Jaguars quarterback Ladarius Skelton.
The Jaguars will need another supreme effort from the running game led by Devon Benn, who had 120 yards and three touchdowns last week.
Odums expressed some concerns about the passing game, which produced only 64 yards. Some of that was because of the running game's success as the Jaguars shut down the pass and threw only five times in the second half. Skelton has yet to play a full four quarters through three games, but Odums said the issues don’t just fall on his junior quarterback.
“We threw a fade and the receiver didn’t adjust,” Odums said of one play. “The ball placement was good. We did have some completions and did move the ball but we’re accustomed to seeing that ball thrown down the field.
“It’s about timing. (Wide receiver) T.J. (Bedford) wasn’t out there. He’s a threat that the quarterback looked forward to throwing to. Passing is rhythm, if you don’t get in a rhythm it messes you up as the game goes along. They went to the right places, the execution needs to improve.”
Over and out
Odums said cornerback Glenn Brown won’t play and probably will end up redshirting this season. Brown has yet to play because of an eligibility issue and could be the second starting corner lost for the season. Robert Rhem is out for the season with a shoulder injury and will also likely redshirt. Both players are sophomores.
Bedford could return after missing last week with an undisclosed injury.
“We should know more about Bedford today,” Odums said. “Hopefully we get good news. I know we’re going to have him back either this week or next week.”
The Southern Quarterback Club is sponsoring a bus trip for the game at Florida A&M in Tallahassee, Florida, Sept 21. For more information call 225.939.5906 or 225.931.1000.