HOUSTON — Dawson Odums took over as Southern’s head coach after a near-disastrous 0-2 start last season.
He provided discipline and stability that yielded a more respectable team during a 4-5 finish, leading to a two-year contract for him and increased optimism entering his first full season. The Jaguars were picked to finish second in the Southwestern Athletic Conference West Division, their highest projection in five seasons.
Southern might yet be a SWAC contender, but its season-opening performance did little to justify the optimism. The Jaguars committed four turnovers and several debilitating penalties and mostly couldn’t get out of their own way in a 62-13 loss to Houston on Friday in Reliant Stadium.
“You can’t give the ball away, especially against a good Division I team,” Odums said. “They’re going to capitalize with a short field. They had four (scoring) drives of (fewer than) 50 yards.”
Daniel Spencer had 102 yards and two touchdowns receiving and ran for another score, Ryan Jackson rushed for 120 yards and two touchdowns, backup quarterback John O’Korn threw three touchdown passes and starter David Piland threw one for the Cougars.
Dray Joseph was 27-of-35 for 268 yards and two touchdowns for Southern, which plays at Northwestern State on Sept. 7, but he and the offense couldn’t keep up with Houston, which amassed 627 yards. Southern had 372.
The Cougars had their own discipline issues, being penalized 14 times for 126 yards compared to the Jaguars’ eight penalties and 61 yards, but Southern’s missteps seemed to hurt more as it fell into an early hole from which it could never escape.
“We had about five drives where we shot ourselves in the foot,” Odums said. “But one of the biggest positives was that no one was hanging their head on the sidelines. There was not frustration. We’ll get better.”
Houston scored on its first four possessions on its way to a 27-6 halftime lead and added a touchdown on the first possession of the third quarter.
Southern responded with a quick-strike score — a 38-yard scoring pass from Joseph to Willie Quinn — on the ensuing possession, but that did little to mask the deficiencies that allowed the game to get out of hand early.
Spencer’s 21-yard TD reception from O’Korn gave the Cougars a 41-13 lead midway through the third quarter.
Justin Hicks’ 1-yard run and John Leday’s 9-yard scoring reception from O’Korn completed the scoring in the fourth quarter.
Southern committed a block-in-the-back penalty while returning the opening kickoff, went three-and-out and got a delay penalty before it could punt. The Cougars started at their 41 after a punt and, five plays later, Jackson ran 8 yards for a touchdown.
The Jaguars got a first down on their next possession before punting again. Houston lined up for a fourth-and-2 at the Southern 36 but didn’t have to snap the ball because the Jaguars had 12 men on the field, creating a first down.
A Houston penalty on a crackback block stalled the drive, and Richie Leone’s 30-yard field goal increased the lead to 10-0.
Southern threatened on its next possession as Joseph threw a 45-yard completion to Samuel Altman to the Cougars 20. But two players later, Kylum Favorite fumbled, and George Bamfo recovered for Houston at the 10. The Cougars made it three scores in as many possessions by driving to Leone’s 38-yard field goal and a 13-0 lead.
Then the Jaguars offense suddenly found a rhythm, driving 75 yards in 12 plays as Joseph threw a 19-yard touchdown to Altman to cut the deficit to 13-6.
Houston came right back with another scoring drive, this one ending when Jackson ran 15 yards for a touchdown.
Southern forced a punt for the first time on the Cougars’ next possession, but the Jaguars’ Marquon Webster inadvertently touched the ball and Earl Foster recovered for Houston at the Southern 12. Two plays later, Piland threw a 10-yard touchdown to Deontay Greenberry.