“All our rules are staying the same.” Dawson Odums, SU interim coach
After having its run-stopping ability thoroughly tested in the first two games, Southern’s defense will turn its eyes skyward.
Saturday’s contest at Jackson State will bring the most difficult matchup thus far — and maybe of the entire season — for the Jaguars secondary, which will have its hands full with the Tigers’ potent passing offense.
After three games, JSU is by far the Southwestern Athletic Conference’s most vertically inclined team. The Tigers have completed 70 of 131 passes for 855 yards, four touchdowns and four interceptions. Only one other SWAC team has more than 50 completions or 100 attempts (Alcorn State), and the next-closest team for yardage is Texas Southern at 625.
Meanwhile, SU hasn’t had to deal with much from opposing quarterbacks. Option-heavy New Mexico only threw 10 times, while Mississippi Valley State’s ground-and-pound offense went to the air 11 times, leaving the Jaguars as the class of the conference when it comes to pass defense. That light workload means the Jaguars have allowed only 123 yards on 15-of-21 passing, while the next-best pass defense, Arkansas-Pine Bluff, has given up 345 yards on 24-of-73 passing.
But there’s little doubt that those numbers will be tested mightily by Tigers receiver Rico Richardson and quarterback Clayton Moore, who were named the SWAC Co-Offensive Player and Newcomer of the Week, respectively, for their performances against Texas Southern.
Moore completed 18 of 36 passes for 363 yards and three touchdowns, while Richardson hauled in eight catches for 235 yards and three TDs.
“Jackson State’s receiving corps is probably the best that we have seen,” SU interim coach and defensive coordinator Dawson Odums said. “They have a great understanding of what they’re trying to do on offense, and they really spread the ball around a lot. It will be a true test for us on defense. ... But I really believe our secondary will be up for the challenge.”
SU will likely start Virgil Williams and Johnathan Mack at cornerback, with Mychal Bell at free safety and Levi Jackson — back from a bone bruise injury — at strong safety.
Academics still in focus
While former coach Stump Mitchell didn’t enjoy much success on the field, he was widely praised for his work in steering Southern clear of more NCAA sanctions stemming from the Academic Progress Rate, which he rose by 10 points in his first season and is expected to improve again when the scores for 2011 are released next summer.
The Jaguars’ coaching change could lead to APR issues if many scholarship players decide to transfer, but in the short term, Odums assured there will be no change to Mitchell’s emphasis on education.
“All our rules are staying the same,” Odums said. “I’m a disciplinarian. I believe there’s a right way and a wrong way to do things, and you have consequences for your actions. We’re going to hold the young men accountable for everything they’re responsible for.
“We know academics is very important to the success of these young men. Football is only going to be a small part of their lives. They’re going to live a lot longer than they’ll play football, so it’s important that we carry out the tasks that are already set before us.”
Holding out hope
Odums said he’s still hopeful that receivers Charles Hawkins and Willie Quinn will be eligible to play this weekend. Hawkins (hamstring) has not practiced full speed this week, and Quinn has not been cleared by the NCAA. Odums said he expected to find out a final answer on Quinn either Wednesday night or Thursday.