Asked about the number five — as in the number of sacks Southern recorded last week against Arkansas-Pine Bluff, a season high — Southern coach Dawson Odums responded by bringing up a different number.
Three, Odums said — as in the number of snaps played by Southern’s top pass rusher, Aaron Tiller, in the second half of that game.
“It’s a resilent bunch,” Odums said of his defensive line. “It’s just other guys stepping up and making plays. When you play within the scheme, the wealth is spread.
“We’re not an individual-based team. From offense to defense, a lot of guys are sharing in the wealth.”
That was especially the case last week, as six Southern players were responsible for the five sacks (Tiller and Jahmal Tillman were each credited with half a sack), and five of those six players are defensive linemen.
Tiller remains the gold standard. Entering Saturday’s game against Prairie View, he has 30 career sacks, which ranks No. 3 among active Football Championship Subdivision players.
But Tiller has started to sense something among his mates on the defensive line: He sees them actively trying to reach the bar he has set so high.
“They don’t want me to make all the plays, you know what I’m saying?” Tiller said. “That’s the biggest thing. Their biggest challenge is, ‘I’m going to beat you to the quarterback.’
“My biggest challenge to them is beat me there, because I’m going to be there regardless. Meet me there. That’s going to create more pressure.”
As this long season began, two of the biggest questions for Southern centered on how the Jaguars would replace the exceptional talents of Lena…
Southern is relatively young along the defensive line, with Tiller and junior Simeon Houston being the only upperclassmen in the regular rotation.
But the Jaguars are perhaps deeper this season than they've been in several years. Ten defensive linemen have appeared in at least half of Southern’s games this season.
“It plays a big part. ... We need fresh legs,” Houston said of the rotation. “If somebody gets tired, throw the next guy in there. He’ll get a good six to seven reps. After that, get him out, get some more legs in there.”
It has paid off recently. During its four-game win streak, Southern has recorded 12 sacks (compared to six sacks in its first four games).
The defensive line is largely responsible for the heavier pass rush of late: Of those 12 sacks, 9½ have been recorded by defensive linemen.
“This ain’t the same D-line that you seen last year,” Tiller said. “Guys are hungry. Guys want to play.”
They will try to keep it going this week against Prairie View, which has been susceptible to opponents’ pass rush at times, having allowed 20 sacks in seven games.
All Southern coach Dawson Odums wants for his team’s final home game of the season is a difficult environment for Prairie View A&M to play in.
Tiller turned in one of the more dominant performances of his fine career last season against Prairie View, recording four sacks and 5½ tackles for loss.
He's not focused on trying to turn in a repeat effort this season.
“Nah,” Tiller said. “It’s hard to go out there and chase your old numbers.”
But he would not mind if his friends along the defensive line tried.