Preseason football scrimmages are hard to gauge by the untrained eye and are used as a teaching tool during fall camp.

But Southern coach Dawson Odums saw reasons for optimism from his group, which went 120 plays of 11-on-11 on Saturday at A.W. Mumford Stadium. Odums said the team ignored the suffocating conditions to strive hard and that it was obvious the team is surpassing last year’s group.

“We got a lot of work in,” said Odums, who is entering his eighth full season with the Jaguars. “It was good to see the competition. They guys fought through the elements, which leads me to believe we’re ahead of where we were a year ago at this time.

“We had some good performances, but we also had too many penalties. But overall, the guys we’re counting on came out with the right mindset.”

One who didn’t come out at all was starting quarterback Ladarius Skelton, who Odums said has missed four practices with a heat-related illness. Holding him out was a precaution, Odums said. Skelton is scheduled to return to practice Monday and Southern’s season opener at McNeese State is three weeks away.

“He could have played today,” Odums said. “If it had been a game, he would have. We know what he can do. We don’t have to risk it.”

The scrimmage was closed to media and public viewing.

Odums said he was happy with the rest of the quarterbacks, four of whom got reps: John Lampley, who started five games last year; Glendon McDaniel; and freshmen Harold Blood and Kendal Boney.

“They just need some work on technique stuff, scenarios,” Odums said. “Knowing when to press, knowing where the sticks are. These are things we can point out on film.”

Center Jaylon Brinson returned to action, but tight end Jeremias Houston did not. He is expected to return Monday or Tuesday, Odums said.

Odums said he liked the perimeter running game, aided by good blocking from his wide receivers. But overall, the defense looked good stopping the run, especially on the inside.

Nose tackle Dakavion Champion and linebacker Calvin Lunkins performed well in an area Odums said needed significant improvement. The pass rush, led by end Jordan Lewis, was also an asset.

“Devon Benn ran the ball well, but it was tough because the run defense was really stout,” Odums said. “They were focused on it. The defense played really well early and the offense picked it up later. We scored three or four times on offense.

“Several guys made some plays on defense. Caleb Carter made some tackles, Dakavion Champion was his steady self, Jordan Lewis was very active. Our D-line was very active. There are some things we’ve got to clean up.”

Odums lamented the number of penalties, not so much holding calls by wide receivers and offensive linemen but a couple of offside calls and a false start.

“False start and offsides that really plague you as a head coach,” he said. “You don’t take those lightly. You can deal with the physical penalties.

“We had a good pass rush, better than it has been. The D-line turned it up and we have some linebackers that are able to pressure the quarterback.

“If we can play good defense on first and second down and get you into a passing situation, turn that front four loose, we’ll be successful. If teams keep seven in to protect, the game will play into our hands.”

The defense came up with four turnovers: two fumble recoveries, an interception by safety Montavius Gaines and a turnover on downs, prompting coaches to run sprints. Coaches promised players they would run if the defense produced four or more turnovers.

“We have a long way to go, but the pieces of the puzzle are coming together,” Odums said. “If we can stay healthy, we know we’re a different offense when we get No. 8 (Skelton) back. There are running plays we can add to the playbook that we didn’t have today.”