When Southern University football coach Dawson Odums says he’s more concerned with his Jaguars than their opponent Saturday, he means it.
The name is familiar, but the game plan will be a mystery when the Jaguars open the 2019 season at 6 p.m. Saturday against McNeese State at Cowboy Stadium.
Southern will be going against a Cowboy team led by first-year coach Sterlin Gilbert, who was the offensive coordinator at South Florida last season. He’s brought the spread offense to a usually run-oriented program, so Odums and company have tried to glean clues from watching game tape of the Bulls.
Back on the Bluffs, Odums likes the way his team handled the offseason and fall camp. An experienced team has shown the leadership he wanted and he sees a group building to a strong opening.
“This morning I saw the energy and enthusiasm of getting ready for a new season,” Odums said Tuesday. “I was pleased with the excitement and energy. Today was attention to detail Tuesday, tomorrow is get better Wednesday. I think they will continue to get better throughout the week.”
“We’re still trying to evaluate the backups and it’s hard to do that going against each other. On Aug. 31, we get a chance to see what kind of football team we have.”
Ladarius Skelton is set to open his first season as the starting quarterback. Skelton accounted for 1,520 yards and 18 touchdowns last season. He’s backed by running back Devon Benn, who had a breakout season in 2018, and five offensive line starters returning in front of him.
Hunter Register leads a talented but unproven receiving corps.
Defensively, the Jaguars have seven starters back and plenty of depth at every position.
Odums does have some insight on the Cowboys, who lost four of their last five games to finish 6-5 in 2018. Coach Lance Guidry was fired. Linebackers coach Charles Ayro and safeties coach Wayne Cordova were on the Cowboys’ staff last year.
“They recruited some of those guys,” Odums said. “We have an idea of what we are about to face.”
Odums also knows a familiar face will be running the offense — Cody Orgeron, the son of LSU coach Ed Orgeron. A dual threat quarterback, Orgeron started three games last season and had 554 yards and four touchdowns rushing and passing. He has two of his top three receivers back in Cyron Sutton and Trevor Begue, who combined for 64 catches, 849 yards and six touchdowns.
“He’s a better runner and passer than people give him credit for,” Odums said. “He hasn’t played a whole lot of football and we don’t know the development since last year.”
The Jaguars can be sure their pass defense will be tested.
“We haven’t watched much film on McNeese but on USF,” safety Montavius Gaines said. “We know they are going to take shots early. We have to watch the money ball and don’t give up anything cheap.”
Defensively, the Cowboys have seven starters back from a team that was No. 2 in the Southland Conference in scoring defense and total defense. Defensive end Chris Livings, who has 20.5 career sacks, leads a strong front line.
McNeese is 12-0 against SWAC teams and has won its last seven season openers at home. Southern counters with one of its most experienced teams. Of the 111 players, 34 are in their fourth or fifth year in the program.
“Practice this week has been good,” senior center Jaylon Brinson said. “We had great energy the last two days. We’re focused on this game and we’ll be ready.”
Sophomore quarterback Bubba McDaniel has moved past junior John Lampley into the backup role behind Skelton, according to the Jaguars depth chart released Tuesday. Lampley opened last season as the starter, but Skelton took over and won five straight games before Southern fell in SWAC title game.
Odums said McDaniel had one of the best fall camps on the roster.
Memphis bus trip
The Blue and Gold Fan Club bus to Memphis for the Sept. 7 game will leave at 2 p.m. Sept. 6 and return immediately after the game Saturday. Cost is $135 per person, including refreshments and a game ticket. Pay hotel direct at a cost of $99 per room. For more information, contact Craig Pierre at 225-324-7234.