2020-21 Bayou Classic Southern vs. Grambling

Southern will face Mississippi Valley State on Sunday afternoon at Veterans Memorial Stadium in Jackson, Miss.

What’s at stake

The schedule sets up nicely for Southern going into conference play. The Jaguars start with two teams that traditionally have been division bottom-dwellers. Sunday's game comes before an open date, so they don’t lose a day of game preparation. This is where the Jaguars need to show how dominant they can be. The running game is better than ever, and the defense is rounding into form, although it needs to create more turnovers. Southern has a chance to assert itself and send a message to the rest of the West Division that it is a force to be dealt with.

Key matchup

Southern DT Davin Cotton vs. Valley RB Caleb Johnson: A quicker, slimmed-down Cotton has created havoc in all three games. He is tied for the team-best with 17 tackles and 1½ sacks among his four tackles for loss. He’s a big reason the Southern linebackers are able to stay clean of offensive linemen, and stopping the Valley run game is the first order of business. Johnson is one of those backs with a low center of gravity, making it hard to knock him off his feet. At 210 pounds, he’s physical enough to shed tacklers, but his footwork can get him through tight spaces. He’s the only real offensive threat the Devils have.

Players to watch

Jaguars: TE Ethan Howard is coming on after missing the first game. He has caught six passes for 94 yards and is the biggest target out there for QB Ladarius Skelton. Howard has a knack for getting open and the athletic ability to make a big play. S Tamaurice Smith is tied with Cotton at 17 tackles in his move from cornerback and has a team-best three pass breakups. He also has two tackles for loss while playing all over the field. He has five career interceptions, showing his big-play ability.

Devils: QB Jalani Eason is a dual-threat graduate transfer who has thrown only five passes, but coach Vincent Dancy hinted at a change at that position from starter Conor Regan. Eason transferred from Portland State after missing most of the 2019 season with a broken ankle. He passed for 1,274 yards and 12 TDs and rushed for 601 yards and six TDs in three seasons. LB Deione Reed is a Monroe native from Richwood High School who is equally proficient against the run and pass with a team-best 12 tackles, two for loss, and a quarterback hurry.

Facts and figures

Southern DE Jordan Lewis got his first two sacks of the season last week to raise his career total to 30½. ... The last time Valley beat Southern was 2012 in Stump Mitchell’s final game at Southern. ... Southern’s defense had 20 tackles for loss to 13 for opponents. ... Eleven different Jaguars have caught passes in three games. ... Southern has committed 24 penalties, an average of eight per game. ... Valley has converted only seven of 29 third-down tries.

Numbers worth knowing

2: Turnovers created by Southern defense in three games

5.1: Southern’s average yards per rush

55: Yards rushing allowed by the Devils last week

Prediction and why

Southern 45, Mississippi Valley State 17: The Jaguars should enter the game breathing fire after last week’s second half collapse, and playing a conference opener should add to the urgency. The rushing attack is as strong as ever. Keeping QB Ladarius Skelton’s mistakes to a minimum is the key. His two turnovers led to 10 points for McNeese State, although he played lights out the rest of the time. The Jaguar defense should assert itself against a woeful Devils team that has scored one touchdown in eight quarters. Provided they fix their special teams mistakes from last week, the Jaguars will take control early and hold on while winning finishing strong this time.