Southern senior center Jalon Brinson wants to beat Alcorn State more than most on the roster. It’s only happened once in his five seasons and once in the Jaguars' past 10 tries.
But he isn’t making excuses about past failures going into the Jaguars' next effort and doesn’t begrudge his opponents.
“Of course (we’re tired of hearing it),” Brinson said of the Braves' dominance in the series. “Anybody would be if they’d beaten them only once. That’s what they call bragging rights. That’s something you earn.”
Brinson and the rest of Jaguar Nation are hoping the 2019 team is ready to make it happen when Southern (8-4) takes on Alcorn State (8-3) at 3 p.m. Saturday in the Southwest Athletic Conference championship game at Spinks-Casem Stadium in Lorman, Mississippi.
The game will be broadcast on ESPNU, and the winner advances to the Celebration Bowl against North Carolina A&T on Dec. 21 in Atlanta.
Coach Dawson Odums is preparing his team to look past the 1-9 record at the only thing that matters: the upcoming game. He wondered aloud whether the players even think much about games that have no bearing on the here and now.
In fact, Odums feels his team might be closing in on something.
“The gap has closed; now it’s about getting over the hump,” he said at his Tuesday news conference. “The reason we haven’t gotten over the hump is that we haven’t executed well. Our plans have been good. The players have to lock and buy in. Early success helps that. Against good teams you can’t leave points on the field.
“The motivation is to play another week. Nothing we’ve done prior to this game has any effect. Nothing we did against Alcorn stopped us from getting to today. We’ll prepare for them this week, and that plan has to be executed if we’re going to be successful.”
Odums has been happy with the way his team has finished the season: four consecutive victories and wins in seven of the past eight. Better quarterback play, a stronger running game and improved pass defense has helped Southern stay a step ahead of the competition.
In their past five conference victories, Southern’s average margin of victory has been five points.
“The whole month of November has been guys working hard and fighting hard and having the determination and desire to win games,” Odums said. “You don’t always win them how you think you should win them. When you keep playing, you have a chance to change your fate in the game.
“Our offense and defense, when one wasn’t performing well, the other rose to the occasion. There’s a lot more cohesiveness. We’ve learned to depend on each other.”
The Jaguars will have to show improvement from the last Alcorn game, a 27-13 loss in October in Lorman. Southern led that game 6-3 at the half but left points on the field. The Braves scored 24 unanswered points in the second half to put the game away.
The leading rushing team in the league (226.7 yards per game), Southern rushed for only 75 yards and blew a golden opportunity on their first drive when running back Devon Benn threw an interception in the end zone on a halfback option pass from the Alcorn 15-yard line.
Quarterback Ladarius Skelton struggled in the first half and was replaced by Bubba McDaniel, who threw an interception to set up an Alcorn score. That’s the last game the two quarterbacks have split time. Skelton has rushed for 547 yards and six touchdowns while passing for 448 yards and seven TDs in the past five victories.
“He’s a lot different from the last time we played, an amazing kid,” Alcorn coach Fred McNair said. “He’s a strong kid, very physical. He does a good job with his legs, and can put it in the air, a dual threat.”
Odums likes Skelton’s decision-making and work habits.
“It’s his preparation; when you invest you get better,” Odums said. “He’s been locked in and giving attention to detail.”
Odums said his team needs to put out a stronger pass rush to get Alcorn quarterback Felix Harper off his spot and moving around. Harper threw for 277 yards and two touchdowns while running for another score. Southern sacked him once but had no consistent pressure and zero quarterback hurries.
“He gets it out of his hands on time,” Odums said. “He has a very quick release and a good understanding of what they are doing on offense. He’s the leader.”
Odums will be looking for multiple leaders on his own roster. His message is that getting to the title game is hard enough; don’t waste the opportunity.
“Coach Odums talked to us about taking advantage of the moment,” Brinson said. “For some of us, there is a chip on our shoulders to go there and play. It could be my last game. With that on the line, a lot of us will play harder knowing what we’re playing for.”