LORMAN, Miss. — Southern coach Dawson Odums and Jaguar players harped all week on the importance of stopping the run in Saturday’s major SWAC clash with reigning league champion Alcorn State.
Giving up 370 yards rushing, as Southern did to the Braves in last year’s 37-28 conference title game loss, will get a defense’s attention.
Unfortunately for the Jaguars, it wasn’t enough. The problem was quarterback Felix Harper’s left arm, throwing darts and dropping bombs on the Southern secondary in a 27-13 loss here.
Harper connected on big plays of 69, 52 and 34 yards while completing 19 of 26 passes for 277 yards and two touchdowns. The 69-yarder to Chris Blair got the Braves out of a hole on third and 10 from their own 1-yard line. The other two helped set up a touchdown and a field goal as the home team took control of the game in the third quarter.
“We were in position to make plays, we just didn’t make them,” Southern defensive back Jakoby Pappillion said. “That’s the most frustrating part. It’s not like they came out with a whole new playbook. We were ready for it all week. Coaches put us in the right position, we just didn’t make plays on the ball.”
Southern’s interception leader Tamaurice Smith was victimized often and didn’t handle it well in the first quarter. He was beaten on the 69-yard completion and twice whistled for pass interference while another Jaguar was flagged for holding, all in the first quarter. Smith did manage to bat down two passes and played better in the last three quarters.
Harper, a junior who stepped in five games ago because of a shoulder injury to returning SWAC Offensive MVP Noah Johnson, has gone five straight games without throwing an interception. Southern never came close to getting one.
The Jaguars did get close with its pass rush and sacked Harper once, by Dakavion Champion. But the rush wasn’t enough to consistently rattle the 5-foot-11, 180-pound junior from Fairburn, Georgia.
“Last time on defense we gave up really big runs,” Odums said. “Now we have to figure out the passing game. If you pressure and blitz and they still make it difficult to cover, it’s going to be a long day.”
Meanwhile, the Jaguars' front played solid. Champion had eight tackles, including three for losses, and All-SWAC running back De’Shawn Waller rushed for 81 hard-earned yards on 22 carries. The Braves averaged only 2.9 yards per carry.
Southern also came up with a big play when Benjamin Harris forced a fumble near the goal line and Caleb Carter recovered it to halt an Alcorn State scoring threat. The defense got a boost from the offense which had drives of 13 and 20 plays in the first half to keep the Braves offense on the sideline.
“They did everything they showed on film,” linebacker Calvin Lunkins said. “We just have to execute better. They threw it more. We stopped the run. We have to work on all three phases. They made plays and we didn’t get enough pressure on him.”