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Southern matched up against Troy for the season opener in Troy, Alabama Saturday, Sept. 4, 2021. Troy defeated the Jaguars 55-5.

Southern coach Jason Rollins might grab a game ball from Saturday’s 55-3 loss to Troy, take it home and hide it for a while.

One day he will want to take it out and look back on his first game as a head coach. Win or lose, every coach has a right to a keepsake for a special moment.

But after the team breaks down the game tape, it will be a game best forgotten as quickly as possible.

Rollins has been a coach too long to know the only way to go into any game is with the confidence your team can win. The odds were against the Jaguars walking into Troy and taking a victory, even as strong a program as Southern has in FCS.

The illusion for victory vanished quickly, for a first-game win for Rollins and a Jaguars upset. The Jaguars coach will be thrilled if his players can pick up a few lessons to serve them down the road.

“It’s all about the players,” Rollins said. “You want to see them play well and come off the field happy. I’m disappointed we didn’t have that victory we worked so hard for. I wasn’t nervous at all. You practice those situations. It’s still football at the end of the day.”

Southern had some fleeting moments that could have led to a better start. The defense forced two fourth-down situations on Troy’s first drive, the second could have resulted in a goal-line stand. But Troy quarterback Taylor Powell was ruled across the goal line on a sneak and the rout was on.

“They reviewed it and said he crossed the plane,” Rollins said matter of factly.

The Jaguars also had a decent pass rush in the early going, but kept getting to Powell a fraction of a second too late. Sack master Jordan Lewis was bottled up most of the night, finishing with three tackles and no sacks. The one time he got to Powell it was nullified by Lewis being offside.

Lewis did have one hurry that led to an interception by defensive tackle Davin Cotton.

“We worked on it all week, attacking our keys and getting back there,” Cotton said. “We were just a step slow tonight. We’re going to get it fixed.”

The Jaguars defense played without starting defensive end Jalen Ivy, but Tyran Nash performed well in his absence with three tackles, two for loss, and a pass breakup. Keyshawn Acker had six tackles, two for loss, and Ray Anderson led the way with eight stops.

The Southern secondary had trouble staying close to the Trojans receivers, allowing Powell to make easy decisions.

The Jaguars offense didn’t help much. They made their second first down when the score was 21-0. Quarterback Ladarius Skelton was without his best two best receivers, Marquis McClain and Ethan Howard, who along with Ivy missed the game because of an internal team matter.

Confidence really sagged when Skelton threw the first of his two interceptions that Troy returned 19 yards for a touchdown.

But Troy had a lot to do with that, stuffing the run game that was missing a key back, Jerodd Sims, who was injured. Skelton gained 1 yard on a keeper on the game’s first play, an indication of how the rest of the night would be. Southern netted 81 yards on 28 carries for a 2.9 average.

As the deficit grew, the Southern bench emptied.

“We played a bunch of guys, several that we want to see and get on film,” Rollins said. “It was good to get on film against good competition.”

The Jaguars might need them. It’s unclear if the four missing players will return against Miles College Saturday. The Jaguars also won’t have safety Chase Foster in the first half of that game because he was ejected for targeting. Backup end Lyston Barber will sit out all of the game. The Jaguars’ depth will be tested against Miles, which lost by one point to Alabama State on Saturday.

This week will be a test of Rollins’ coaching mettle. He’s got to get the players to buy into the bounce-back theory and win their confidence. 

“It was the first game of the season, first game jitters,” junior offensive tackle Ja’Tyre Carter said. “We’re going back into the lab, look at film, build off of it and get better.”

The Jaguars have to make Rollins’ first game as head coach a new beginning. Then, one day, when Rollins takes out that game ball, he can smile a little after wincing at the final score.