Southern fans may have come to the spring game to see offense Saturday, but the Jaguar defense had something to prove also.
Coach Dawson Odums said one of the biggest improvements he wanted to see was in run defense and the Jaguars responded with sure tackling and physical play in the 90-minute, 85-play scrimmage in front of several hundred fans at A.W. Mumford Stadium.
Of the 38 running plays, the defense held the offense to 2 yards or fewer on 22 plays and had seven tackles for loss, including four sacks. The defense also forced a fumble by Devon Benn which was recovered by Keyshawn Acker. Linemen Dakavion Champion, Jalen Ivy and Jordan Lewis, linebacker Calvin Lunkins and defensive backs B.J. Harris, Chase Foster, Jordan Eastling and Glen Brown paced the defensive effort.
“We played really good run defense,” Odums said after watching the tape on Sunday. “We cut down on the number of explosive runs from the first scrimmage to the second. That was a plus. Giving up touchdowns was probably the minus. We gave up some big plays in the passing game but some young kids are still learning what is going on.”
Southern played without defensive backs Montavius Gaines, Andrea Augustine and Robert Rhem but produced three interceptions and several pass breakups. Brown saved touchdowns on back-to-back plays and had an interception of a LaDarius Skelton pass.
Odums praised Lewis’ development as the team tries to add weight and make him an every-down defensive end, although he’s still listed at 197 pounds. The rest of the defense will rally around senior leader Lunkins, the team’s leading tackler last year.
“Lunk is going to be great,” Odums said. “He had a great day. He’s growing as a linebacker.”
Odums was also happy with the play of the quarterbacks behind Skleton. John Lampley, who started the first five games last year before Skelton took over, completed eight of 13 passes for 110 yards and one TD. He also ran for a touchdown. The three quarterbacks, including Glendon "Bubba" McDaniel, combined to go 23 for 38 for 305 yards.
“When you got three quarterbacks that have started it helps you,” Odums said. “Lampley looked like his old self. He’s comfortable, Dra (Skelton) is comfortable, Bubba is comfortable. We’re blessed. We know at any point any of these guys can go in and do a great job for us.”
Benn didn’t play much after being shaken up on his fumble but ran four times for nine yards and caught two passes for 23. Craig Nelson, who transferred from Indiana, ran seven times for 32 yards. He showed toughness on his 5-yard TD run, taking a big hit just as he crossed the goal line.
“Craig Nelson has a chance to be special,” Odums said. “He runs physical, he has the speed. It was good to see him play. We’ve got Devon Benn and (Darbbeon) Profit. It’s going to be a good year for us at running back.”
Odums did not say much about the loss of co-defensive coordinator Steve Adams, who left Southern for another job early last week. He was expected to assist defensive coordinator Lionel Washington in that job but also coached linebackers and special teams.
Odums, who coached linebackers during the spring game, did not appear worried about his loss and said the position will be filled later.
“We’ll start contacting people this week,” Odums said. “There’s no rush. Spring is nearly over. They’re (coaching staff) good guys. As long as the core is together, you can build around it. As long as everybody does their responsibility we have a chance to have success.”
The Jaguars will practice Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday this week with the final session next Tuesday. Odums said either Saturday or next Tuesday the third and fourth teams will participate in a scrimmage.
“We were pretty good, but we can improve,” Odums said. “We’re going to do things that fit the skill set of the players we have. We’re going to be a deep football team going into fall camp.”