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UAPB's Xavier Mitchell, left, tries to wrap up Southern University's Devon Benn in the 4th quarter of their game Sept. 28, 2019 in Pine Bluff, Ark. PHOTO BY STEPHEN B. THORNTON

Southern coach Dawson Odums has been saying it since the end of last season: the Jaguars most pressing issue was improved run defense.

There are still seven games to go but the Jaguars sent their coach a message in Saturday’s 31-7 victory at Arkansas-Pine Bluff.

“We take pride in stopping the run,” he said. “This is the best run defense we’ve played since I’ve been the head coach, probably since 2013.”

Southern limited last year’s conference rushing champions Taeyler Porter to 59 yards on 19 carries. Overall the Lions had 61 yards on 25 tries, a 2.4 yards-per-carry average, which helped allow the Jaguars to tee off with their pass rush and put heat on UAPB’s quarterback duo, leading to four interceptions.

Southern asserts itself early against explosive Arkansas-Pine Bluff

“We had a tremendous team effort on slowing down Taeyler Porter,” Odums said. “Our motto this season has been to stop the run. It’s 11 guys on the ground and one running the football. It’s pride.

“I’m a Sam Washington disciple, the coach at (North Carolina) A&T. I played for him. I learned it as a player and believe it as a coach. We’re going to put emphasis on stopping the run. That’s where it starts with the Jags.”

It didn’t hurt that Southern got off to a fast start, taking the ball after winning the coin toss and using an up-tempo attack to keep the home team off balance. Odums said it bodes well moving forward. Southern has an open date before playing host to Prairie View A&M at 6 p.m. Oct. 12.

“We finally got off to a fast start,” he said. “Our offense got us going early, we did a great job controlling their wide receivers. We went to UAPB with the right mindset. If we hit the infield with the right mindset, we are as good as anybody we play.”

POLL RISING

Southern moved up in both BOXTOROW HBCU polls, going from No. 10 to No. 7 in the media poll and from No. 7 to No. 6 in the coaches rankings. The top three in each poll stayed the same: North Carolina A&T, Bethune-Cookman and Alcorn State.

SKELTON STEPS UP

Maybe the best thing to happen in Pine Bluff was quarterback Ladarius Skelton putting in a solid, complete game. He ran for 47 yards and three of Southern’s four touchdowns, while passing for 157. Best of all, he played every snap, although backup Bubba McDaniel was on call.

'Nickel' paves way for Southern in victory against Arkansas-Pine Bluff

“We know who our starter is,” Odums said. “It’s getting him locked in to be as good as he can be.

“If he was hot, we were going to ride the hot hand. If he had a slow start, Bubba was going to get a series. He was ready. We didn’t want to break his rhythm. He needed a game that he could get under his belt, gain trust in his teammates. Hopefully this is a confidence booster for him and he has the mindset to be the leader we need him to be.”

TIGHT ENDS AILING

Odums said the team is hurting at tight end with backups Jadarian Davis and Travis Tucker questionable for Prairie View.

“We’re trying to figure out how we’re going to play going forward,” he said. “Our tight ends are banged up so we might have to use a lot of 10 personnel (one back, four side receivers, zero tight ends).

How Southern used a dominant run game and strong defense to open SWAC with big win

“It’s a needed bye week to get some rest and try to get some guys recovered and get our best team on the field and back-to-back long road trips. Give the guys a chance to focus on their bodies and recovery.

MOVING FORWARD

Odums said the practice schedule would not change with the open day, although his players would get a couple of days off, probably Friday and Saturday. He said they will return to work on Sunday.