After falling behind at halftime against Division II opponent Miles College, Southern relied on its running game as it rallied for a 41-24 win at A.W. Mumford Stadium.
It was an old-fashioned but effective approach. Southern finished with 323 yards on the ground with 242 coming in the second half. Impressively, the Jaguars needed just 39 carries to reach its total as they averaged 8.3 yards per carry.
Craig Nelson led the ground assault with eight carries for 134 yards, including a 68-yard touchdown run. Also factoring in was Devon Benn with 69 yards on 13 attempts, and Kobe Dillon, who picked up 57 yards on six rushes, all in the fourth quarter.
“It was just our mindset,” Nelson said. “We wanted to come out (in the second half) and show the defense what we could do so we just picked up on the run game.”
Picking up on the run game meant setting the tone early. Benn started the opening drive of the second half with consecutive carries for 9, 9 and 5 yards. Nelson’s 19-yard run set up the Jaguars at the MC 6, and Benn was able to trot through a huge hole into the end zone.
“In the first half, we saw that we could run the ball,” Nelson said. “We came out (in the second half) and said, ‘Hey, we’ve got to run the ball.’ The passing was good, but we’ve got to run the ball. That’s our offense.”
Nelson added his 68-yard touchdown run in the final minute of the third quarter.
“I just saw green grass,” Nelson said of the hole that opened up over right tackle. “I had to hit it so that’s what I did.”
Southern’s commitment to the run came after a first half where the Jaguars split their play calls at 50-50 between runs and passes. In the second half, Southern attempted only three passes as it established its running game.
When Southern took possession at the MC 42 with 10:26 left in the game, there was no doubt the Jaguars would rely on their run game. Still, the Golden Bears were unable to slow down Southern’s run game.
Six consecutive runs brought the Jaguars to the MC 5. From there, quarterback Bubba McDaniel put the game out of reach with a designed quarterback keeper that he took into the end zone.
“That was a great play,” Nelson said. “(McDaniel) did a great job smacking it in and that lit the fire for the Jags winning.”
Southern got one last possession with 4:28 left. Six handoffs to Dillon was all it took to run out the clock.
It put a cap on a night when Nelson and the rest of the Southern running backs provided a glimpse of what first-year coach Jason Rollins hopes will be a hallmark of his team.
“Craig ran the ball well,” Rollins said. “He’s always been a really good running back. (He has) another year of experience, he had a great spring. We are a run-first team, so you’ve got to have depth in the backfield.”