Southern’s improved defense has the Jaguars in prime position in the Western Division — while bracing for UAPB
If Southern wants to win the Western Division of the Southwestern Athletic Conference and play for its conference championship in Houston’s Reliant Stadium on Dec. 7, then the Jaguars defense needs to continue playing like it has the past three weeks.
Not the first three weeks.
Southern allowed 1,950 yards and 176 points through the first three games.
Yet the defense has slowly come together, allowing 940 yards and 56 points in its last three games.
Granted that two of the first three games were against Houston of the Football Bowl Subdivision and Northwestern State of the Southland Conference as well as a double-overtime thriller of a win over Prairie View, the point remains that the defense is remarkably improved.
“We’re really doing the same things, but we’re paying attention to the details, and it has just been the little things,” Southern coach Dawson Odums said. “We’re tackling better. If you tackle well, then you’re going to have the chance to play good defense, and our tackling is greatly improved.”
Not only is the Southern defense tackling better, they are much improved in forcing mistakes.
In the Jaguars’ first three games, the defense created just two turnovers. Yet in last week’s double-overtime affair against Alabama A&M, the defense created four turnovers.
The improvement can be attributed in large part to the fact that the pieces are starting to fall into place as defenders are beginning to return to the lineup after missing action for various reasons, including suspensions, transfer issues and injuries.
“We have had the chance to get everyone back out there,” Odums said.
The Southern secondary has welcomed the returns of cornerbacks Virgil Williams and Johnathan Mack in recent weeks.
However, since Williams’ return two weeks ago, he has seen action extensively in the slot as the team’s nickel back instead of his regular spot at left cornerback.
This move has allowed Odums to utilize Williams’ athletic ability by blitzing him off the edge to create an aggressive pass rush as well as still having him available for coverage in the secondary and allowing D’Andre Woodland, the team’s biggest cornerback at 6-foot-1 185 pounds, to play outside.
Southern also welcomed transfer safety Dionte McDuffy into action against Prairie View after McDuffy missed the first two contests because of transfer compliance issues.
McDuffy’s addition to the lineup along with junior safety Omar Cook has given Odums two talented players at the back end of his defense.
Cook, who has made the defense’s only two interceptions this season, has been an integral part in the success the unit has enjoyed the past few games.
“Omar Cook is a guy that stays in the film room. He studies the game and knows the game and the game plan,” Odums said. “And that’s a tremendous asset to have in the secondary, because they are the last line of defense. He’s a guy that’s getting to an opportunity to play, and he’s starting to make big plays for us.”
Although the offense certainly can score points in bunches, the defense has shown the capability of picking up the slack when the offense stalls in recent games. Combine that with the playmaking ability of returners Willie Quinn and Williams, and Odums is excited about the possibilities ahead.
“The way were are winning football games right now is just waiting to have someone step up and make a play,” Odums said. “I’m waiting to see what happens when all three phases of the football team click together.
“I really think we have an opportunity to be special, but we are going to have to execute better.”