Back at full strength

Advocate staff photo by RICHARD ALAN HANNONSouthern defensive back Virgil Williams goes after a loose ball dropped by Arkansas-Pine Bluff quarterback Benjamin Anderson earlier this season. Wiht numerous injuries, Williams has had to step into a more prominent role at safety this season. Show caption
Advocate staff photo by RICHARD ALAN HANNONSouthern defensive back Virgil Williams goes after a loose ball dropped by Arkansas-Pine Bluff quarterback Benjamin Anderson earlier this season. Wiht numerous injuries, Williams has had to step into a more prominent role at safety this season.

Southern defensive backfield getting healthy for Classic

Southern University’s secondary has gone through a face lift this season.

From a multitude of injuries to some key position changes, the Jaguars have experienced their share of ups and downs with the defensive backs. They’re hoping all the pieces fall together this week leading up to the marquee season finale at 1:30 p.m. Saturday against Grambling in the Bayou Classic.

Southern started the season with strong showings in the secondary, allowing just 123 total passing yards in its first two games before things to a turn for the worse. Starting in Week 3, the Jaguars gave up at least 250 passing yards in five of their next six contests, including two games with more than 300 yards.

Southern has surrendered at least one passing touchdown in nine of 10 games this season, with four multi-score games sprinkled in. The Jaguars have the third-worst passing defense in the SWAC, allowing 217.4 yards per game through the air, and opponents have thrown 15 touchdown passes.

But all things considered, interim coach Dawson Odums has been pleased with the play of his defensive backs throughout the season, citing a bad half here or there that hurt the numbers as a whole.

“Defensively, we played well for the most part of the season,” said Odums, who noted lapses for stretches in a few games.

Some signs point to injury bug that plagued the Southern all season.

The Jaguars lost senior strong safety Mychal Bell for the year with a knee injury in October and were without fellow safeties Levi Jackson and D’Mekus Cook for a number of weeks.

Jackson — typically a starter — has missed three games this season, and Cook was held out for four straight weeks at the end of October.

Odums pieced together his secondary from there, moving Southern’s top cornerback, junior Virgil Williams, to safety, then transforming freshman quarterback Justin Morgan to defensive back.

Southern’s schedule probably didn’t help.

The Jaguars dealt with the firing of Stump Mitchell after their second game, a 6-0 home loss to Mississippi Calley. They also played nine consecutive games from Sept. 13 to Nov. 10, going 3-6 during that stretch.

“We played nine games in a row,” Odums said.

“As coaches, we needed some rest. Players needed some rest.”

It’s not an ideal recipe for Southern, but it may be in the past. Odums said the team should be back to full strength for the Bayou Classic.

“We’ve got everybody back,” he said.

“We’ll be full speed. It’s great to have those guys back.”

SU heads into the Bayou Classic on a four-game losing streak, and its secondary could have its hands full again Saturday against Grambling. Despite their 1-9 record, the Tigers passing attack ranks No. 4 in the conference, averaging 193.2 passing yards per game.

Both Grambling quarterbacks rank in the top 10 in the conference in passing efficiency, and wideout Jeremy Hernandez is No. 4 in the league with 62.9 receiving yards per game.

Bus trips

  • The 6th Man Club is sponsoring a bus trip to New Orleans for Saturday’s game. The cost is $50 and does not include a game ticket. For information, call Anna Jones at (225) 387-1982 or (225) 907-7212, Freddie Green Sr. at (225) 388-9403 or (225) 572-3060, or Elijah Wilkinson at (225) 355-9249.
  • The Blue and Gold Club also is is sponsoring a bus trip to New Orleans. The cost is $40 and does not include a game ticket. For information, call Robert Square at (225) 931-4052 or Craig Pierre at (225) 324-7234.