A preseason glance at the Southern football schedule looked like it set up nicely for the Jaguars.
The first two conference games were against perennial cellar dwellers with the tough part of the schedule to come later and at home.
Right now it appears the whole schedule is the tough part.
Texas Southern, saddled with an 18-game SWAC losing streak, didn’t roll over literally or figuratively. It raced past the Jaguars in Saturday’s somewhat surprising 35-31 victory in the Arlington Football Showdown.
While the Southern offense was grinding downfield a few yards at a time, the Tigers up-tempo offense spent the day blowing past Jaguars defenders. TSU ran 12 fewer plays but averaged 8.1 yards per play to Southern’s 6.4.
While the game came down to a failed fourth-down try by Southern, a little bit better defense would have prevented that situation.
“We can’t play defense like that and expect to win any ballgame, I don’t care who is out there,” Southern coach Jason Rollins said. We knew we could move the ball up and down the field. We just needed to get a few more stops to put the game away.
“It wasn’t the scheme; we have to make the plays when they come to you. It’s what I’ve been harping on and preaching. We have to make those plays.”
Southern allowed 576 yards with 17-year-old freshman quarterback Andrew Body at the controls. He threw for 338 yards and rushed for 85. Southern sacked him twice but never had a consistent pass rush (one quarterback hurry) partly because of the quick throws and hurry-up scheme.
But the back end of Southern’s defense was even worse. The improvement shown from their first two games vanished and it was Troy all over again. The Jaguars had one pass breakup as Tiger receivers seemed to get separation all day.
Still, Southern came up with two big stops in the fourth quarter. Ray Anderson’s stole the ball to stop a TSU drive inside the Jaguars 10-yard line and launch Southern’s last TD drive.
Later, holding a 31-28 lead, a tackle for loss by Lyston Barber and third-down sack by Tyran Nash seemed to be the plays they were waiting for. They forced TSU to punt with 5:05 remaining and everything was set for Southern’s crunching ground game to finish on the field.
Then, the offense was unable to get the final yard on a fourth-down run by quarterback Bubba McDaniel. Regardless of the kerfuffle on the play caused by the officials on the field and replay booth, it was the right call by Rollins to go for it. The best chance to win was to let the offense win it. He didn’t want to put the game in the defense's hands.
“We just didn’t finish,” McDaniel said. “We had good drives going and didn’t execute. I was trying to get the first down and came up short.”
Jaguars fans would do well top remember the opponent wasn’t a squad of tackling dummies. TSU has been building through its losses and looked like a different program. It’s going to beat some other teams, perhaps doing Southern a favor somewhere down the road.
“We’re a young team and have a lot of growth to do,” McKinney said. “This is the new TSU. I tip my hat to my players. I’ve asked them to do a lot of tough things, things they aren’t used to doing. Whatever I’ve asked, they’ve done it 100%. This is the fruits of their labor.”
For Southern, the best attitude is to see it as a turning point. There are better offenses and quarterbacks coming up, including two SWAC offensive MVPs. Dwelling on the one that got away will only make the road harder.
“You just have to know this game is over,” senior guard Johnathan Bishop said. “No amount of crying or disappointment or anything will take this game back. All you can do is focus on the next opponent and next game.”
Southern wide receiver Jamar Washington's ankle injury prevented him from dressing out, which was a game-time decision. Punter Martell Fontenot was expected to be out a few weeks after injuring his shoulder against Mississippi Valley State. He averaged 39 yards per kick with no return yardage.