Southern @ TSU018.JPG

Southern University Jaguars wide receiver Marquis McClain (5) rushes against Texas Southern Tigers defensive back Marquis Walker (38) in the first half during a college football game on March 20, 2021 at BBVA Stadium in Houston, TX. Photo by Thomas Shea/Stringer

What’s at stake

Season openers can make or break a team and Southern doesn’t have to win this mismatch on paper to make it a success. Jaguars fans want to see where the program is under interim coach Jason Rollins, who has credibility as an assistant after 25 seasons but knows better than anyone it doesn’t get real until kickoff. The Jaguars have chance at a strong season with six home games, four in the SWAC, and only one conference game on an opponents’ home field. Rollins is best off if his team looks organized, competitive and passionate, win or lose.

Key matchup

Southern quarterback Ladarius Skelton vs. Troy defense: Troy defenders knows Skelton is a handful and will try to pressure him everywhere on the field. Southern will have to break some big plays, and Skelton’s teammates will have to play well in support of him. That means blocking and getting open on pass routes. Troy has a salty defense led by All-Americans Carlton Martial at linebacker and Dell Pettus at safety. The Trojans had 66 tackles for losses last season and will want to stop Skelton before he gets moving. Containing him as a scrambler will be a major task.

Players to watch

Jaguars: WR Marquis McClain, a transfer from Auburn who caught 12 passes for 167 yards last year, had a strong camp after getting acclimated in the spring. McClain is explosive and good in the red zone at 6-2 and 210 pounds. His experience will be crucial in support of quarterback Ladarius Skelton, who needs to see his receivers open. LB Ray Anderson is calling the shots at Will linebacker. Another transfer who played in the spring, he takes over the leadership role on defense from Caleb Carter and will be surrounded by inexperienced players at his position. He’s a thumper who will be strong against the run but will have to be ready to pick up backs and tight ends in coverage.

Trojans: Running back BJ Smith rushed for 1,186 yards in 2018 but has battled injuries the past two years. He’s back behind speedster Kimani Vidal, the fastest player on the team, who was clocked at 23 mph at 30 yards. Smith is dangerous as a third-down back with 26 catches despite his injuries. LB Carlton Martial is an All-American who was rated the No. 35 player in the nation last year by Pro Football Focus. In three seasons he has 315 tackles, 37 for loss, eight sacks, nine passes defended, six forced fumbles and four interceptions. He started his career as a walk-on and had 21 tackles in a game against Coastal Carolina.

Facts and figures

It’s the first meeting between the programs. Troy’s KJ Robertson led all linebackers nationally with just two missed tackles in 60 chances, according to Pro Football Focus. Southern’s Tamaurice Smith has six career interceptions. Troy’s only player with Louisiana ties is Kyran Isom-Griffin, who was born in New Orleans and spent seven years in the Marine Corps. He turns 29 in November. Southern DB Kordell Caldwell will try to make it four consecutive seasons with at least one blocked punt. Southern has won two of its past 10 season openers. It’s the second straight season Southern has played its season opener in Alabama. The Jaguars won 24-21 at Alabama State to start the spring season.

Numbers worth knowing

4 – Defensive touchdowns scored by Troy last season

7 – Sacks by Southern opponents last season

257.2 – Yards rushing per game for Southern last season

Prediction and why

Troy 31, Southern 21

The Jaguars are a decided underdog with a rookie head coach making his first appearance in that role. The advantage is with the home team, which will have its home stadium as close to capacity as possible with no pandemic restrictions. That said, Southern will give a good account of itself with playmaking quarterback Ladarius Skelton and 46 players entering their fourth season of college ball. Season openers tend to get sloppy even for the winning team. Troy’s no-huddle, up-tempo offense will eventually wear down the Jaguars defense.