SHREVEPORT — Last weekend could have been looked at as an aberration, a blip that held little relevance to the future.
By giving up a season-high 510 yards in a 50-21 loss against Arkansas-Pine Bluff on Oct. 20, Southern’s defense showed itself to be vulnerable — something it hadn’t been when holding the previous five opponents to 21 or fewer points.
Against the Golden Lions, perhaps the Jaguars were just throwing on their Halloween costume a little early, showing up for one Saturday as “a bad defense.”
But now, after a second consecutive worst game of the year — a 49-29 loss to Prairie View in which the Panthers amassed 645 yards — it’s starting to look like this is the new normal.
The Jaguars are not who we thought they were.
This is not, as previously viewed, a stout defense growing stronger each week and held captive by an inept offense. Instead, it’s a big problem, and it’s hard to imagine this team finishing on any kind of high note if the defense keeps playing this way.
After all, the schedule doesn’t get any easier from here.
The next two weeks will bring in two of the Southwestern Athletic Conference’s best offenses, as Alabama State (32.6 points per game) and Alabama A&M (27.9) rank first and third. Thanks to Southern’s play on Saturday, Prairie View is now second in scoring and first in total offense.
What’s the culprit?
Injuries certainly don’t help, but Southern pretty much had all hands on deck this week. The most glaring absence, free safety Mychal Bell, wasn’t a major factor, either. The biggest problem, as pointed out last week and again Saturday, was tackling.
PV came in with a hot-handed offense, scoring 83 points in back-to-back wins.
But they aren’t that good.
Quarterback Deauntre Smiley put up a jaw-dropping 568 yards of offense — the best game by a SWAC player this season. He’s solid, but much like UAPB quarterback Ben Anderson last week (371 yards), he isn’t exactly Cam Newton.
Yet Smiley broke loose for 170 rushing yards, beating the defense so badly on a 62-yard TD dash that he jogged for the final 10 or so yards.
“It’s not that he was a deadly runner, it’s more that it’s OK to run for 5 yards — but when the first guy misses and the next guy misses, a 5-yard run ends up being 25, and 25 ends up being 30,” interim coach Dawson Odums said. “We have to get back to the fundamentals.”
Odums is right. Although Anderson, Smiley and everyone else who has feasted on Southern in the past two weeks deserves credit for thrilling play, the Jaguars aren’t exactly displaying sound football.
They look unfocused and often unmotivated, hitting ball carriers high when they should be low or trying to drag people down with arm tackles.
That’s not the kind of football that — until two weeks ago — had established SU as one of the league’s better defenses. And with two good offenses due up in the next two weeks, it’s not the kind of football that will keep Southern from tanking.