Southern coach Dawson Odums likes to talk about his season in terms of months.
The preparation of August camp is followed by the shakedown cruise in September when a team’s strengths and weaknesses expose themselves. October is the set-up month for the strong finish teams want to have in November.
Odums sees his Jaguars as right on schedule after Saturday’s 58-7 victory against overmatched Virginia University of Lynchburg.
It wasn’t the final score that pleased the eighth-year coach, it was his team’s approach and method in dispatching a lesser foe. The focus was there from the first snap to the final kneel-down in a fourth quarter shortened six minutes by mutual agreement.
“To see us hitting stride in November. ... we have as good a chance as anybody left in the race,” Odums said after the game. “Our mindset, attention to detail, we’re starting to lock in and realize it’s coming to an end. These seniors want to do something special.”
The Jaguars are poised for that with a visit to Jackson State on Saturday followed by a bye week and then the Bayou Classic, where the West Division race will be decided. Southern (6-4, 4-1 in SWAC play) needs only to beat Grambling (5-4, 3-2) to capture the division and a spot in the league title game.
Southern can clinch the West title with a victory at Jackson State but only if Grambling, which has won five straight games, loses at Mississippi Valley State (2-7, 1-4) next week. The G-Men have won five games against conference foes, but victories against Jackson State (44-21) and Alabama A&M (23-10) don’t count in the league standings.
If Southern can win both of its final two games, it stands a good chance of hosting the championship game, too.
Grambling’s 19-16 overtime victory against Alcorn State has scrambled both division races. Defending league champion Alcorn (6-3, 4-1) could find itself on the outside looking in on the East Division race if it loses next week to Alabama A&M (6-4, 3-2).
“People keep looking at records; don’t look at the records,” Odums said. “These teams are going to be different week in and week out. A team one week can be bad and the next week everything clicks for them. You’ve got to win some games playing ugly and the ball will have to bounce your way some days when you’re playing well.
“At the end of the day, you’ve got to win. That’s what our team knows how to do. We’ve really put that on display in November.”
The fact that Southern took care of business quickly and efficiently was pleasing for Odums. An opponent like the Dragons can be a distraction, but Southern put this game away early with a 21-0 first-quarter lead that grew to 48-7 at the half.
The idea of being in November mode has sunk in for the players.
“We were battled tested last game,” said wide receiver Hunter Register, who caught three passes for 68 yards and a touchdown. “We won this game by a big margin. We know how to win. We lost some close ones in the beginning but now we see how it comes together.”
The best news was that Southern got another good performance from quarterback Ladarius Skelton, who threw for 193 yards but more importantly, only two incompletions. The Jaguars continued their habit of running the ball (371 yards) and stopping the run (minus-14 allowed). A formula that should serve them well moving forward.
“He was efficient,” Odums said of Skelton. “It’s November, he’s going to play well. He’s going to do the right things and prepare the right way. Next week we’re going to challenge him to take it to another level. I know if he plays well our offense has a chance to be successful.”