After looking shaky in his first two games, Southern quarterback Ladarius Skelton was sharp in the last outing, a 51-23 victory at Texas Southern.
The question is can Skelton stay consistent and use the game as a springboard in the final three games?
Southern coach Dawson Odums said he is confident his senior who has started the program’s past 22 games will continue to grow going into Saturday’s nationally televised game at Jackson State.
“He responded the way he needed to,” Odums said. “There wasn’t any controversy. The kid made a bonehead play (against Arkansas-Pine Bluff) and I made the decision to take him from the game. That comes with growth. He responded the way we expected him to respond. When you get your chance, you go out there and maximize your opportunity. I thought he did that well versus Texas Southern. Now we’ve got another opportunity.”
Against TSU, Skelton rushed 12 times — the most in three games — for 75 yards and completed 9 of 14 passes for two more scores. His one interception was a case of a receiver running the wrong way, and he helped the Jaguars offense gain 442 yards and score the most points in three seasons.
Skelton had been benched for a large segment of Southern’s 33-30 loss to Arkansas-Pine Bluff on March 6 after committing an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty. John Lampley replaced him and also saw some action against Texas Southern.
Odums said the Jaguars’ third quarterback, Bubba McDaniel, is available for the first time this season and suffering an injury to his left (nonthrowing) hand. He will make the trip to Jackson State and dress out ready to play.
“He’ll travel with us and be ready if we need him,” Odums said. “He’s getting back in the groove. John has been the second guy and done a really good job. It’s great to have those guys, three QBs that you can turn to. Not a lot of schools have that. Hopefully he can continue to improve. When his name is called I know he’ll be ready.”
Running back Jarodd Sims has come on strong off the bench behind starter Devon Benn. Simms carried 18 times for 96 yards, second to Skelton’s 164 yards rushing, but has scored five touchdowns, two of them receiving. Sims has caught five passes for 61 yards, playing a familiar role in the Jaguars offense.
“If you go back to the (Lenard) Tillery days, we’ve always used the running back out of the backfield,” Odums said. “He’s got the talent. You just try to maximize it wherever we can, put the ball in his hands. It’s another obstacle you have to defend.
“He’s a good player, he practices the right way. I’m grateful he’s been able to reap the rewards. His best football is in front of him."
Before the season, Odums said he was worried about a lack of depth at the safety position, but thus far has gotten strong efforts from Chase Foster and Jakobi Jones, who have the Jaguars’ two interceptions so far. Foster has also broken up four passes and is fourth on the team with 12 tackles.
Jones had seven tackles along with his interception against Texas Southern.
“They’re experienced guys, they’ve been in our program, they understand how to get ready for games,” Odums said. “Our depth there has to come on down the stretch. Jakobi Jones played his best game to date for us. It was exciting to see him make some plays for us. Both of those guys are great communicators.”
Return to the scene
Saturday’s game will return Southern to the site of its first victory under Odums, who took over as interim coach in the third game of the 2012 season. Southern beat Jackson State 28-21 and went 4-5 the rest of the season. Odums was named permanent head coach the next season and the Jaguars won the SWAC title.
Odums said he’s only looking forward.
“We live in the now, whatever happened in the past doesn’t give us anything other than what we have today,” Odums said when asked if he had any special reminiscences. “We look at the opportunity in front of us."