There’s little doubt that the road to Southern University’s first SWAC championship since 2013 goes through Lorman, Mississippi. Right now the Jaguars are just trying to keep from running off the road.
Saturday’s 28-21 victory against winless Texas Southern was full of mistakes and turned out to be a lot closer call than most Southern fans would have expected. It took a big play by the embattled defense with 55 seconds left to finish off the explosive Tigers.
It’s not what coach Dawson Odums was hoping to see after the previous two victories appeared to put his team on track for the coming showdown with reigning champion — and Southern nemesis — Alcorn State.
Southern survived the pesky upset bid by the Tigers to improve to 4-3 overall and 3-0 in SWAC play, and Odums said if he has to put that game into context for his team, they aren’t paying attention.
“I don’t think there’s a message needed,” Odums said when asked about what Saturday’s win means going forward. “We’re 1-8 against them (Alcorn). Nobody in our locker room has beaten them. It is what it is. You know the game is next. We’re going to get prepared to play to the best of our ability or we’re going to go up there and be 1-9. They are a very good football team. They know how to win.”
Odums did compliment his team for finding a way to win when it looked like Texas Southern was driving for a game tying score. It had to please him that a pair of reserves teamed up to make the big defensive play after allowing 516 yards. Leading tackler and linebacker Calvin Lunkins was on the sideline when Datrel Brumfield hit Texas Southern wide receiver from behind after a reception. Jordan Williams was there to recover at the Southern 24-yard line.
Brumfield and Williams are both redshirt seniors who have had limited playing time. Brumfield entered the game with one tackle this season. Williams had seven stops with a half tackle for loss and a pass breakup. It shows the depth and experience the Jaguars have improves their margin for error.
“We were blessed to come out with the win,” Lunkins said. “Texas Southern has a good team. We didn’t care about their record. They have scholarship players on their team, too, so I knew they were going to make some plays. We had to lock in and focus on our task.”
The Southern offense got the biggest boost from the bench with backup quarterback Bubba McDaniel stepping in with 252 yards and three TDs passing. He might have had a 300-yard passing game if not for two drops, although his receivers seem to respond to him.
McDaniel’s play underscores the problems with the Southern passing game when Ladarius Skelton is in the game. Skelton threw his seventh pick of the season, again from holding the ball too long. For the second time this season, physical problems put him on the sideline, neither time was he injured. Against Memphis it was dehydration. Saturday, Odums said Skelton got sick during a drive and requested to be replaced.
Skelton wasn’t having a terrible day against a team that came in allowing 625 yards and 51 points per game. But he wasn’t dominating like he could have, either. He was five of 10 passing for 43 yards and at least two poorly thrown incompletions besides the pick. He ran for 39 yards on six carries.
Odums made it clear even with McDaniel’s performance, Skelton is still the starter.
“I didn’t think we were struggling,” Odums said of Skelton. “On the interception he just held the ball. At the end of the day, (he should) just take off and run. He wasn’t playing bad.”
What Odums didn’t say is that McDaniel took a huge step forward and that with four league games remaining starting with Alcorn, he might not wait long to make a mid-game change at quarterback. In the past four weeks, the best passing game on the field belong to the Jaguar opponents.
Southern’s roster-wide experience carried the Jaguars this time. That’s a place teams like Texas Southern, Prairie View and Arkansas-Pine Bluff are trying to reach. But the Jaguars likely won’t survive the next game with as much inconsistency as they displayed.
“When you haven’t won you seem to shoot yourself in the foot when the game is on the line,” he said. (Texas Southern) had a chance to win the game and we made a play at the end. When you do all those things you can say we’re very fortunate to win the game. We have to play better if we want to continue winning.”