Some college football victories are messy and others downright ugly, but when the final whistle sounds, they’re all sweet.
Southern’s 41-24 victory against Division II Miles College fell somewhere in the middle: far from pretty but just as far from ugly considering everything that happened before and during the game.
The Jaguars found themselves without starting quarterback Ladarius Skelton, and their defensive star Jordan Lewis missed most of the game. A determined, disciplined and well-coached opponent was having no sympathy.
At first, it looked like Southern’s defense was picking up where it left off in last week’s 55-3 loss at Troy.
What the Jaguars showed was the ability to overcome the loss of two of their best players, fix their first-half mistakes and win the game going away. Fans might be miffed the Jaguars weren’t dominant against a lower-division team, but Miles is one of the best in its division.
“We were close in the first half, we just weren’t finishing plays, finishing blocks,” Jaguars coach Jason Rollins said of his first career victory. “We emphasized finishing and execution, locking in. We stopped ourselves on self-inflicted penalties and got behind the sticks early when we had an opportunity to flip the field. It was details, a step here, a step there.”
Defensively, the problems were similar. The Jaguars couldn’t get off the field as Miles’ offense converted five of seven third downs. Southern contributed to its woes with four third-down penalties that helped the visitors lead 17-13 at the half.
Rollins said poor tackling hurt, plus the myriad defensive packages the Bears threw at his offense took some time to sort out. He said the tackling issues reflect the uncommon year when the team had to forgo the normal amount of contact work in practice coming off a five-game spring season.
When Southern needed someone to step in and perform in a pinch, quarterback Bubba McDaniel answered the call.
“We had to modify what we did as far as contact work in practice,” Rollins said. “They ran so many different fronts and defensive packages. It took a half to see what they were doing.”
Southern’s offense revved up its running game while throwing only three passes in the second half. Except for one fumble, Bubba McDaniel punctuated a strong week of practice with 138 yards passing with a TD throw, and 56 yards rushing and two more scores.
McDaniel stepped in because late in the week Skelton re-aggravated a leg injury suffered at Troy the previous week. Rollins won’t know Skelton’s status until the team returns to practice Tuesday, but McDaniel’s play eases his mind.
Three running backs combined for 253 yards, led by Craig Nelson, who had a career-high 134 yards on eight carries. His 68-yard TD run in the third quarter gave Southern the lead for good. Devon Benn pitched in with 62 yards and two TDs, and freshman Kobe Dillon saw his first action with 57 yards on six carries on the final drive.
Defensively, Southern got strong play up front in the second half. Jalen Ivy stepped in for Lewis, and reserve linebacker Kennen Tate had seven tackles, including 2½ for loss, matching defensive tackle Davin Cotton.
Southern also forced a turnover in the fading moments. Tyler Judson recovered a fumble in the end zone by running back Donte Edwards. Judson’s apparent 100-yard return for a touchdown was nullified by a personal foul penalty near midfield.
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…
Lewis, who appeared to leave the field with an injured right shoulder, is questionable moving forward, Rollins said.
“It felt good to get that win for all the people who are excited about Jaguar football,” Rollins said. “Everyone feels good about a win.”
Southern University statistics from the game incorrectly listed Skelton as having thrown two passes, completing one for minus-2 yards. Skelton did not play. McDaniel’s corrected statistics were 11 completions on 15 attempts for 138 yards.