Southern knows what to fix for SWAC championship

Advocate staff photo by CATHERINE THRELKELD -- Southern University Jaguars quarterback Dray Joseph (10) throws the ball during the game between Jackson State University and Southern University on Saturday at A. W. Mumford Stadium in Baton Rouge. Show caption
Advocate staff photo by CATHERINE THRELKELD -- Southern University Jaguars quarterback Dray Joseph (10) throws the ball during the game between Jackson State University and Southern University on Saturday at A. W. Mumford Stadium in Baton Rouge.

Southern is a much-improved team since it lost at home to Jackson State ... but Dray Joseph still laments the game-winning touchdown pass he didn’t throw

Dray Joseph vividly remembers the last pass he threw against Jackson State.

It was Sept. 28, and Southern was trailing the Tigers 19-14 in the final moments. Joseph had marched the Jaguars from their 25 to the Tigers’ 7-yard line, where they faced fourth-and-3.

Joseph stood in the pocket and spotted tight end Bradley Coleman open in the back of the end zone, but threw the ball too low for Coleman to handle. The incompletion with one minute remaining sealed JSU’s victory.

As Southern prepares for a rematch with the Tigers in the Southwestern Athletic Conference Championship on Saturday, Joseph said he thinks about that play “all the time.”

“I think I carried it with me the rest of the season,” Joseph said. “My teammates expect me to make that throw. I’ve made that throw before. I’ve replayed it in my mind and left it in my memory bank, so on Saturday, I’ll have it with me.”

That missed opportunity symbolized a frustrating game for the Southern offense. The point total is tied for the second-lowest of the season. Joseph lost a fumble at the Jaguars 9, leading to a Tigers touchdown, and he threw an interception that stopped Southern’s second-to-last possession.

It also hurt that Greg Pittman missed a 42-yard field goal that would have given the Jaguars more options at the end.

“We didn’t do anything offensively that day,” coach Dawson Odums said.

Southern gained 348 yards, its fourth-lowest total of the season, and ran a season-low 55 plays.

Even though the Tigers averaged just 3.6 yards per rush, they kept the chains moving and the ball away from Southern for much of the game. JSU ran 53 times for 190 yards, gained 23 first downs and possessed the ball for more than 35 minutes, including two-thirds of the time in the second half.

“They did a great job of keeping us off the field in the second half,” Joseph said. “They began to run the ball a lot and chewed a lot of clock. It’s tough to score points if you’re not on the field.”

Southern has identified what it needs to do better in this game and it knows JSU will challenge the Jaguars to prove they can.

“They’re going to pick out the things they did well in the first game,” safety Omar Cook said, “so we know we have to stop their running game.”

Odums said the Jaguars had faced primarily one-back sets going into the JSU game and the Tigers had used primarily one-back sets previously. So when the Tigers used two-back sets, Southern had to adapt.

“We made some adjustments in that game to stop them, but I think we’ve got more defense in now at end of season than we had at the fifth game of the season,” he said. “They have a great running game. It’s going to be a challenge because they’re very big up front, but the good thing is you’ve played them before and you understand what they’re about. Whoever can run the football is probably going to win the football game.”

That also means whoever does a better job of defending the run is probably going to win the game.

“We watched the film and we missed a lot of tackles,” cornerback Virgil Williams said. “We’ve corrected that ever since that game, and I think it’s going to pay off for us Saturday.”

After the JSU game, Southern was allowing an average of 246 rushing yards and 510 total yards per game. Since then, it has allowed an average of 179 rushing yards and 345 total yards.

“Earlier in the season, we were still trying to find our identity as a defense,” Cook said. “I feel like the last few weeks we’ve done a pretty good job of stopping the run and playing defense, period. I think we’re a much more mature team than we were at the beginning of the season.

“I think we have a lot more perseverance going into games. We’re not letting teams just run all over us like we were at the start of the season. We’re coming out with intensity and we’re starting faster than we were.”

If the offense has more opportunities in the rematch it is better equipped to take advantage of them because of the emergence of Randall Menard, Mike Jones and others as complements to Lee Doss and Willie Quinn as targets for Joseph.

After the JSU game, Doss and Quinn had accounted for 52 percent of Southern’s receptions, 61 percent of the receiving yards and 72 percent of the receiving touchdowns.

“If you stopped those two,” Odums said, “you could shut down our offense.”

That’s no longer the case. Since then, they have accounted for 44 percent of the receptions, 42 percent of the receiving yards and 43 percent of the receiving touchdowns.

“We’ve added some receivers since the first time played them,” Odums said. “It’s pick your poison. We have several receivers who can make plays.”

Joseph said he remembers linebacker Daniel Brown talking to him after the missed play at the end of the first meeting.

“He said, ‘Just keep your head up. We’ve got more games to win in order to see them again in the SWAC Championship Game,’ ” Joseph recalled. “As I sit down and recollect on the game, it came down to things we didn’t do right.

“It wasn’t so much the things they did right, it was some of the things we did. We put ourselves in some bad positions. We just can’t have those things in a championship game.”