MEMPHIS, Tenn. — The record will show Southern University couldn’t rightfully celebrate its 1,000th football game Saturday by popping champagne and holding a parade.
But there was a lot to like about the overmatched Jaguars’ 55-24 loss to FBS Memphis at the Liberty Bowl on Saturday.
Stinging from an unsightly season opener filled with turnovers and myriad other mistakes last week, Southern (0-2) responded from the opening whistle and took the fight to the home team before petering out in the second half under broiling conditions.
“I thought we had a great game plan,” Southern coach Dawson Odums said. “Our guys were very in tune for the challenge. They were up for it, very prepared.
“The effort was there. We always compete at a high level. You could see the growth from Game 1 to Game 2. If we continue to do that, we don’t have to reinvent the wheel, we’ll get a whole lot better.”
Southern outgained the home team and dominated the ball, scoring on a five-play, 75-yard drive to start the game. The Jaguars added another 75-yard drive in 17 plays and trailed 27-17 at halftime.
Memphis (2-0) then asserted itself and regained the momentum with a 10-minute touchdown drive to start the third quarter. Meanwhile, the Jaguars were without quarterback Ladarius Skelton at the start of the second half because of heat cramps. Southern had only four possessions in the second half and gained 15 yards.
Skelton, who rushed for 74 yards and threw a 4-yard touchdown pass to tight end Jeremias Houston in the first half, returned for two series in the second half when the Jaguars were down 48-24.
“Hats off to Southern, they had a good plan offensively that had some misdirection that kept us off balance,” Memphis coach Mike Norvell said. “They really controlled the clock in the first half. We needed a great second half and I thought we did that, except for a couple of plays.”
Southern’s only second half score came on one of those, a 74-yard fumble return by Jordan Lewis after he sacked and stripped the ball from Memphis quarterback Brady White. Jamar Washington scored the other Jaguars TD on a 7-yard run to cap the game’s opening drive.
Memphis got a big-time passing effort from White, who completed 17 of 21 passes for 337 yards and two touchdowns. Kenneth Gainwell, subbing for Tigers’ leading rusher Patrick Taylor, rushed for 85 yards and two TDs and caught four passes for 38 yards and another score.
“Memphis is a good team; give them the respect they deserve,” Southern center Jaylon Brinson said. “They beat an SEC team last week, but we fear nobody. We see what our potential could be when we’re clicking on all cylinders. This week is a catapult week for us into next week.”
Last week’s five-turnover effort helped catapult the Jaguars, who came out smoking in the first quarter. Devon Benn broke a 29-yard run on a dive play and Skelton went another 29 on a keeper to set up Washington’s TD on an option pitch only 1:32 into the game. All of the yardage came via rushing.
Memphis responded quickly with a field goal and then a 55-yard scoring pass from White to Antonio Gibson on a play in which three Jaguars missed tackles. The Tigers made it 17-7 when Austin Hart blocked a punt and Keith Brown returned the ball 27 yards to make it 17-7.
Southern answered with its 17-play drive that ate up 10:08 and ended when Skelton flipped the ball to Houston just before being hit. Southern had six first downs and four third-down conversions on the drive.
“We showed we can move the ball on anybody,” said wide receiver Hunter Register, who had a 36-yard catch to set up a field goal. “We played a better game than last week. We didn’t make the same mistakes we made last week.”
Memphis came back on Gainwell’s 46-yard TD run and the teams traded field goals for a 27-17 halftime margin.
But after piling up 243 yards and 13 first downs in the first half, Southern could manage only one first down in the second. Southern’s time of possession edge was 22:34 to 7:226 and Memphis in the second half was 23:23 to 6:27.
“We couldn’t get anything going offensively in the second half,” Odums said. “They had some big plays themselves and controlled the ball, and we missed some opportunities in the first half.
“We’re a good football team; our players know that. If we take care of what we’re supposed to be, be what we’re supposed to be, we’ll make plays. Today we made some, but Memphis made a few more. There’s a lot we can build on.”