Redshirt freshman running back Devon Benn was back at practice Tuesday morning looking much like his old self after missing most of the past three games with a knee injury.
“He made a cut today like he never missed a day,” Southern coach Dawson Odums said. “We’re excited to have him back.”
Benn left in the first quarter of Southern’s Sept. 30 win against Fort Valley State with a knee injury, and has not returned to the field since.
He was Southern’s leading rusher going into the Fort Valley State game, but senior running back Herb Edwards has been exceptional in Benn’s absence, tallying three straight 100-yard rushing performances.
Edwards, who ranks No. 3 in the Southwestern Athletic Conference with 523 yards rushing, will hold his spot as Southern’s starting running back this Saturday against Arkansas-Pine Bluff.
“I think you play (Edwards), and when he needs a break, you get the next guy in,” Odums said. “I think we’ve got some depth back there, we know what Benn can do, we know what he brings to table.”
Despite missing most of the past three weeks with injury, Benn still ranks among the SWAC's top-10 rushers. He showed additional value as a receiver out of the backfield, catching eight passes for 87 yards before his injury.
“He’s very versatile,” senior quarterback Austin Howard said. “We can line him up at receiver in our empty package. … He’s another asset to our offense, teams have to worry about him, too.”
For his part, Edwards is excited to resume sharing the load with Benn.
“I’m happy that he’s back on the field with me so we can get our 1-2 punch rolling,” Edwards said.
Odums made it known immediately after the game Saturday that he did not think his team’s performance met his standards, and his tune didn't change after getting an opportunity to re-watch the 35-17 win against Jackson State.
“It confirmed that we left plays out there,” Odums said.
The challenge, Odums said, is finding out how to get his players to meet his demand that they not settle for average, whether it’s game day or a Monday practice.
That was evident in Saturday’s game, he said, because his team only played to the level he thinks it is capable of in spurts.
“We didn’t play dominating football from start to finish, because, again, they’re not locked in to playing great,” Odums said. “It’s not OK to be OK … in our program. We have a high expectation for the individuals in our program, and we expect that they play a certain way.
“As long as I’m the head coach here, that’s going to be the demand.”
Execute what you practice
When asked about his decision to go for a fake field goal in the second quarter against Jackson State on Saturday, Odums said he’s not the type of coach who likes practicing plays that he never uses.
The coaching staff watching from the press box told him the fake field goal was open, and it appears Odums put the call in his players’ hands from there.
“Sometimes you’ve got to know the heartbeat of your team,” Odums said. “They know me as a coach, the players in the huddle said, ‘Let’s run it, coach.’
Freshman receiver Kendall Catalon, the holder on field goals, scored on a 4-yard touchdown run to cap an 80-yard drive. It was Catalon's first career rushing attempt.
“I said we practiced it, we know exactly what we’re doing, I trust you guys with execution, let’s go run it," Odums said.
Home away from home
Southern is the first of of two “home games” for Arkansas-Pine Bluff at War Memorial Stadium in Little Rock, Arkansas, this season.
Pine Bluff coach Monte Coleman said his team traditionally plays at least one game a year there.
“We’ve got a large alumni base there in Little Rock, so instead of them traveling here to Pine Bluff, they will possibly come to the game there,” Coleman said.