Jaguars have chance to play spoiler against Alabama A&M
“Southern is very capable of coming in here and beating us. We’ve got to put this last one (the Alabama State loss) behind us and try to get ourselves ready to play the best football game we can play.” anthony jones, Alabama A&M coach
At the start of Wednesday’s workout on the Southern practice fields, interim coach Dawson Odums balanced a tackling dummy as his defensive backs and linebackers, one by one, charged toward him.
Two strips of tape formed an “X” on the dummy at knee level.
Players hit the marked spot, then fell into a pile of pads stacked behind their target.
The drill was to prepare the Jaguars for the task of slowing Alabama A&M running back Kaderius Lacey, a bull of a runner who enters Saturday afternoon’s game against the Jaguars at Louis Crews Stadium in Normal, Ala., as the Southwestern Athletic Conference’s leading rusher.
“He’s too big to hit up high,” Southern defensive tackle Casey Narcisse said.
The Jaguars will face not only a powerful downhill runner Saturday bent on plowing them over, but also an opponent sure to approach this game with the eagerness of a speeding boulder.
Only two weeks ago, A&M was 6-0 overall and in firm control of the Eastern Division title chase.
Then the Bulldogs (6-2, 5-2 in the SWAC) suffered a head-scratching loss to Alcorn State at home. Then they got pushed around by rival Alabama State in the Magic City Classic.
So now, A&M has only a share of first in the East and must win Saturday to keep pace.
What’s more, the Bulldogs may smell blood.
Southern (3-5, 2-4) seemed to have found some mojo after Odums stepped in for Stump Mitchell three games into the season, but the honeymoon ended in the space of two lousy weeks.
The Jaguars controlled their own destiny in the Western Division before being spanked at home by Arkansas-Pine Bluff, then fell mathematically out of the division race when Prairie View outscored them 21-0 in the fourth quarter of a 49-29 romp.
“We look at all those things as fuel,” Southern quarterback Dray Joseph said. “The position we’re in right now, beating a No. 1 team makes you feel better. It makes you feel like this is where we’re supposed to be, and this is how it’s supposed to be.”
To avoid a three-game losing streak, Southern must snap a stranglehold by A&M in recent years.
Alabama A&M has won four of the past five meetings in this series. The only Southern victory during that time was last season, when the Jaguars jumped on A&M for a 21-0 halftime lead and cruised to a 21-6 win.
The last four A&M wins in the series have come by an average of 11.3 points.
Southern’s most recent win in suburban Huntsville came in 2004, the last time the Jaguars won the Western Division. A&M won by 20 there two years ago.
“Any day, anybody can go down,” Alabama A&M coach Anthony Jones said. “Southern is very capable of coming in here and beating us. We’ve got to put this last one (the Alabama State loss) behind us and try to get ourselves ready to play the best football game we can play.”
Jones said falling to Alabama State last week was an emotional setback, but the Bulldogs shouldn’t lack for incentive considering they share first in the East with the Hornets, who along with A&M lead Jackson State by one-half game.
Senior quarterback Deaunte Mason, a second-team all-conference selection last year, is one reason to like A&M’s chances of reaching the SWAC title game for a second straight season. The other is his powerful senior running mate.
A four-year starter, Lacey is A&M’s all-time leading rusher.
He faces a Southern defense that allowed Prairie View quarterback De’Auntre Smiley to rush for 170 yards last week.
“We’ve got to get our defense back playing up to par,” Narcisse said. “We’ve got to hunt the football.”
Southern is clearly in spoiler mode the final month of the season, but the Jaguars still have a shot at their first winning season in three years and — of course — their first Bayou Classic victory in five.
As important, they can build momentum going into next year and perhaps make a statement Odums deserves to become the permanent head coach.
Odums has told his players to make the next three weeks a “November to remember.”
“A SWAC championship would have been nice, but we’ve got these last three games in November,” Narcisse said. “We’ve got to go all out and finish strong.”