Southern would do well without an offense at all.
Not because the Jaguars aren’t effective on that side of the ball. On the contrary, they’ve shown steady improvements the past few weeks.
They just haven’t needed the offense to win games lately.
During the Jaguars’ three-game win streak, the defense and special teams scored enough points by themselves to win games, outpacing opponents 44-14.
In a shutout of Prairie View, it was a field goal and a fake field goal that holder Kendall Catalon took 25 yards for the score.
Against Texas Southern, the Jaguars put a blocked punt into the end zone, matching the one touchdown they allowed in the game — the lone offensive score the Jaguars have given up during the streak.
And on Saturday night, in a 41-7 drubbing of rival Jackson State, Southern scored two defensive touchdowns, returned a kickoff 92 yards and kicked a pair of field goals.
With production like that, whatever Southern has squeezed out of its offense is nothing more than bonus.
“Any time you can get non-offensive touchdowns, it really boosts the confidence of your team and makes it difficult for your opponents,” coach Dawson Odums said. “Those are points your creating without your offense on the field.”
After shutting out an opposing offense for the second time in three games Saturday night — JSU’s lone score came from punt return in the third quarter — Odums compared the Jaguars defense to that of the 2013 Southern team that won the program’s first Southwestern Athletic Conference title in a decade.
But not even the 2013 team was this effective.
With five defensive and special teams touchdowns in three games, Southern scored 52 total points with its offense on the sideline: two fumble recoveries for touchdowns, a kickoff return for touchdown, a blocked punt for touchdown, a fake field goal for touchdown, a safety and five field goals.
The 2013 Jaguars, by comparison, had five non-offensive touchdowns and 10 made field goals.
Southern is holding offenses to 23.5 points per game, inflated by giving up 55 and 54 points to FBS-level TCU and Louisiana Tech, compared to 29.2 points per game in 2013.
“Defensively, this is probably one of the better stretches that I’ve seen,” Odums said. “Probably 2013 was as close of a stretch as we’ve had to playing like this on defense. They’re playing really well.”
The biggest improvement is the explosion of special teams production.
With three touchdowns in as many games, Southern is finally finding the success it lacked early in the year.
The Jaguars created their biggest gains on punt returns this season against Jackson State when Demerio Houston flipped the field with returns of 36 and 29 yards.
“It felt great to get some good returns and give my offense good field position,” Houston said.
It’s no coincidence the improved defense and special teams carried over to the offense.
While the defense was shutting out opponents, the offense scored 59 points in the first half the past three games.
Against Jackson State, the offense didn’t have far to go all night to put points on the board with an average starting field position at the Jaguars’ 41-yard line. Four times Southern began a drive in JSU territory, including a first-quarter touchdown drive.
“It makes us want to — we go hard, but we can go harder because we see them giving everything they’ve got for us to get the ball back, creating turnovers and scoring points for us,” Catalon said. “By them making plays out there, it gives us energy to make plays just like they’re doing out there.”
Southern punter Cesar Barajas was recognized as the SWAC Specialist of the Week for his performance against Jackson State, averaging 47.5 yards on six punts.
Barajas has been a weapon this season in pinning opposing offenses deep inside their own territory, including twice inside the 5-yard line against JSU.
This is Southerns second weekly honor. Quarterback Ladarius Skelton was the Offensive Player of the Week three weeks ago against Prairie View.