Southern hit some high notes in its 2019 season opener at McNeese, the kind that often result in victory.
The Jaguars started strong and finished strong, in fact, scoring as many points in the fourth quarter of the 34-28 loss to McNeese State as it did in all of the fourth quarters last season.
It was what happened in between that doomed the Jaguars to their sixth season-opening loss in coach Dawson Odums' tenure.
Five fumbles lost covered over the good parts of the defeat that wasn’t as close as the final margin suggests. The Jaguars trailed 34-14 until a final rush closed the gap.
“We did a lot of good things to put ourselves in position early but didn’t play as a team well,” said Odums, now 1-6 in season openers. “If the defense got a stop, we didn’t turn it into points. We forced them to punt and gave the ball away. You can’t be up and down.”
Odums consoled himself with the idea that many teams suffer the same result when they get under the lights for the first time. He believes his team, blessed with an abundance of experience, will settle in and play better in the coming weeks.
For Southern to be successful, that has to start with quarterback Ladarius Skelton, who was benched after one possession in the third quarter resulted in his second lost fumble of the game. Skelton was fighting for yardage when Colby Richardson yanked the ball out of his hands and recovered at the Jaguars 36.
McNeese took advantage and scored to take a 24-14 lead. The Jaguars weren’t the same with backup Bubba McDaniel and McNeese added 10 more points to its lead before Southern finally responded.
Skelton started well. He had runs of 16, 8 and 5 yards early in the game and threw touchdown passes of 33 yards to Tim Bedford and 43 to Hunter Register. But his first fumble was unforced, the ball flying out of his hands as he attempted to pass and it gave McNeese possession at the Southern 13.
Odums said he trusts Skelton’s leadership and confidence. He isn’t worried about Skelton responding favorably.
“He made some good plays, but ball security. ... two costly turnovers,” Odums said, shaking his head.
“He was on the sidelines cheering those guys on. He knew it wasn’t his best performance, but we’ll get another shot. Our guys understand. We tell the next guy be ready. He’ll bounce back.”
After a shaky start which included a fumble, McDaniel played well in leading two touchdown drives. He completed 11 of 19 passes for 135 yards and a touchdown, and ran 1-yard for another score.
Odums also has an issue on special teams. The Jaguars could not find a trustworthy punt receiver. Jordan Eastling muffed his second opportunity, although McNeese defenders may have caused the turnover by interfering with the catch. Officials reviewed the play but did not reverse the call.
Odums switched to Devon Benn on the next punt and he inadvertently touched the ball before diving on it to prevent another disaster. Eastling muffed another punt later that McNeese recovered at the Southern 24 and resulted in a missed field goal.
“Just fielding it, judging it, lights, height. . . just being in that environment,” Odums said. “We’ve got all new guys (fielding punts).
“We’ve got to find a guy who is going to be comfortable making decisions. I don’t know if it was the wind blowing it or what but we didn’t make good decisions back there.”
The defense was much less of a concern. Linebacker Caleb Carter had an outstanding night with seven solo tackles and 12 total to lead the Jaguars. The pass rush was consistent with two sacks and affecting quarterback Cody Orgeron into scrambling.
The run defense that Odums focused on improving allowed only 3.0 yards per rush and came up with some crucial stops. Southern outgained McNeese 342-303 but the Cowboys ran eight more plays, 76-68.
“We did a great job early on third down and stopping the run,” Odums said. “We were in position. We made the quarterback make some plays. We got to him a couple of times, made him scramble.
“They played a lot of snaps, wore down. We were on the field a lot.”
It’s going to be hard to look improved in Week 2. The Jaguars journey to Memphis to play a Tiger team that beat Ole Miss, 15-10. The truly important games are still far in the future with the conference opener at Arkansas-Pine Bluff four weeks away.
“We will go back to the drawing board, fix it and get ready for next week,” Benn said.
Memphis bus trips
The Southern Quarterback Club bus trip will for the Memphis game will depart at midnight Sept. 6 for the 11 a.m. Saturday kickoff. For more information call 225.939.5906 or 225.931.1000
The Blue and Gold Fan Club trip departs at 2 p.m. Friday, Sept. 6. Cost is $135 per person, including refreshments and game ticket. Friday night stay at a cost of $99 per room, pay direct. For more information, contact Craig Pierre at 225.324.7234.