Facing teams with a hot-handed quarterback and dominant receiver in each of the past two weeks, Southern’s secondary has certainly been tested.
In each of those tests was an important question: Who will emerge as a reliable fifth defensive back?
Go ahead and bubble in “Q” — as in freshman Marquon Webster — for that one.
After seeing regular playing time two weeks ago at Jackson State and finishing in a tie for the team lead for solo tackles (five), Webster shined in a 21-14 win against Florida A&M.
The Jaguars went to a 3-3-5 defense for most of the game, with Webster joining cornerbacks Virgil Williams and Johnathan Mack. Webster took up his post on the outside, while Williams moved inside to cover the slot receiver.
Webster responded with a game-high two pass breakups and four tackles, including one for a loss.
In the second quarter, he pulled down FAMU’s top receiver, Travis Harvey, for no gain on third-and-5. When the Rattlers went for it on the next play, he knocked the pass away to give Southern the ball.
In the third quarter, Webster broke up a pass on third-and-4 to force a punt, and the Jaguars scored their first points on the ensuing drive. Then, in the fourth, he tackled running back Eddie Rocker for a loss of four, setting up the second-and-14 play where SU forced a fumble and returned it for the winning score.
“He stepped up,” interim coach Dawson Odums said of Webster. “One thing about him is, he works hard. I call him ‘Mr. Right,’ because normally he’s always doing the right thing. He’s going to be where he’s supposed to be and make the plays he’s supposed to make.”
Defensive backs coach Manny Martin echoed that sentiment, saying Webster’s reliability is what earned him the spot.
Other players, like safety D’Mekus Cook and cornerbacks D’Andre Woodland and Kevin King, are in the running for spots in nickel and dime packages, but Webster has been the most consistent.
“He’s going to do what he’s supposed to do, and we know that,” Martin said. “If he knows he’s supposed to be deep, he’s going to stay deep, I don’t care who’s over there. He does a great job reading routes and stuff like that.”
Webster’s positioning is his greatest tool, Martin said. At 5-foot-9, 142 pounds, the Las Vegas native isn’t exactly a threatening physical presence. But his ability to be in the right place and react quickly — a skill he picked up as a point guard in basketball — sets him apart.
Standing out was Webster’s goal as soon as he arrived from Canyon Springs High in North Las Vegas, Nev., where he played for former Arena Football League MVP Hunkie Cooper, a friend of former SU coach Stump Mitchell.
“My mentality is that I choose my own destiny,” Webster said. “Either I can mess up myself, or make plays, work hard and earn my spot.”
So far, it has been the latter.
After what Odums said was a good spring performance and slow start to fall camp, Webster came on strong and appears to have locked down that third corner spot in the team’s nickel package, which is called “Radar.”
On the whole, he’s part of a secondary that comes off two games with mixed results. The Jaguars allowed 302 passing yards to Jackson State and 256 to Florida A&M, with the top wideouts on both teams — JSU’s Rico Richardson and FAMU’s Travis Harvey — racking up more than 100 yards each.
“I feel like we could have done a lot better,” Martin said. “We won the games, so that was the biggest thing. We didn’t get to hold their top receivers under the 100 mark, like I would like to, but we also didn’t let them beat us.”