Southern coach Dawson Odums wants his players focused on the Alcorn State team in front of them, not those from the past seven seasons.
He does, however, want them to “feel” those games.
It’s been well-documented that Alcorn has owned Southern since Odums became the Jaguars coach in 2012, losing only in 2016 and winning eight times in that span going into Saturday’s key Southwestern Athletic Conference clash between the Jaguars and Braves at 2 p.m. at Spinks-Casem Stadium.
When asked about the hex the Braves appear to have, Alcorn coach Fred McNair couldn’t distance himself fast enough on the SWAC coaches teleconference this week. He opened by praising Southern as an opponent and closed by saying the Braves simply stick to their way of doing things.
Odums’ message to his team was that if they don’t like the perception they can’t beat Alcorn, do something about it.
“It doesn’t change until the guys in the locker room realize change needs to take place,” Odums said. “Something has to hurt before change can take place. That’s the way it is in life. You have to get tired of something staying a certain way and refuse for it to stay that way, go in with the mindset we’re the ones who are going to change that.”
The players know what he’s talking about. The most recent disappointment came on the same field where the Jaguars will play Saturday. Last December, Southern took a lead in the fourth quarter only to fall 37-28 in the SWAC title game.
“I remember the game not going the way we wanted to,” Southern center Jaylon Brinson said. “We felt like any team that put everything on the line for a championship would feel. That’s it. We knew what we needed to do. We had 60 minutes to get it done and didn’t get it done. I did (leave it all on the field), and I think my teammates did. You can’t ask for anything more.
“I expect (Alcorn) to bring their best. Every time they’ve played us they played us hard, aggressive and physical. That’s a great football team over there.”
Another loss to Alcorn wouldn’t ruin the Jaguars’ season. Southern (4-3, 3-0 SWAC) has the inside track on winning the West Division for the second consecutive season. That could mean another title-game rematch. But a victory could allow Southern to host the championship game as long as it ends the season ranked higher than the Braves (5-2, 3-0). That adds urgency to Saturday’s game.
Southern has reason for optimism with a roster full of experience and depth, factors that weren’t in its favor in past seasons because of APR sanctions that scored a direct hit on recruiting. The biggest question mark for Southern is at quarterback, where it appears the Jaguars will play both Ladarius Skelton and Bubba McDaniel, after the latter came off the bench and provided the team’s best passing performance of the season: 17 of 26 for 252 yards and three touchdowns.
Southern likely will need both McDaniel and Skelton, who makes the Jaguars a dangerous running team with his ability to run the option and scramble, against the league’s top-rated defense (328.4 yards allowed per game).
There is some quarterback intrigue at Alcorn, too. Backup Felix Harper has started the past three games in place of returning SWAC Offensive Player of the Year Noah Johnson without much drop-off. Harper has thrown for 1,279 yards and 18 touchdowns in four games. He’s thrown only two interceptions, none in the past three games.
“You just look at film, and not much has changed,” Odums said of the Alcorn offense. “They have pretty much stuck to the script when it comes to how they call the offense whether it’s Noah or Harper. They have a good understanding of what they’re trying to do, and we have to get an understanding, get out guys lined up and play to our expectations. We have to control the passing game and stop the run. We didn’t do a good job of that last week.”
The Jaguars will need more focus than last week when they moved the ball well but had three turnovers and a missed 31-yard field goal in a 28-21 victory against winless Texas Southern. The defense surrendered 516 yards. If there is a silver lining there, the game could serve as a wake-up call.
The atmosphere will be that of a big game. Southern fans will help make the game a sellout. Alcorn is retiring star quarterback Steve McNair’s jersey at halftime. The noise will should be off the charts. Above all, it will be one more meeting with the Jaguars' nemesis.
“They have the pedigree, the ingredients that make a champion,” Odums said. “Coach McNair has done fantastic job, one of the most consistent teams in our conference. The team to beat on the other (division) 5 or 6 years in a row. They do a great job getting them ready.
“It’s tough to win on the road in this conference. You have to buckle up and come with the right mindset and focus.”