September 30, 2012
It might seem that Southern’s matchup with Florida A&M — one of the nation’s top HBCU programs — is a tough draw for a squad still trying to build confidence.
But in reality, it’s just another week where the schedule perfectly fits the Jaguars’ needs.
They really couldn’t have drawn this up any better.
Okay, so maybe they could have hoped for more than a blowout defeat, loss to Mississippi Valley State and coaching change after two games, but performance aside, SU has a remarkably friendly schedule.
That paycheck season opener at New Mexico was a travel hassle, but it was ultimately a risk-free practice game for a team that had missed loads of scrimmage time because of weather.
Then, after a bye, Southern welcomed the lowly Delta Devils, who came in on just four days rest for what should have been a quick and easy win to start Southwestern Athletic Conference play.
Even though that didn’t go as planned, the Jaguars had a couple of extra days to get ready for Jackson State — hours and minutes that were all the more precious for players to get over coach Stump Mitchell’s dismissal.
And the Tigers, a rivalry opponent dealing with its own slow start to the year, were a perfect opponent to get Southern refocused.
That brings us to this week and Florida A&M, and once again, the schedule is smiling upon SU.
As evidenced by the Jaguars nearly losing a big lead in their 28-21 win, there’s a lot to work on.
Namely, penalties (136 yards at JSU), rushing (2.6 yards per carry this season) and finishing.
Who better to test those on than a nonconference foe?
Unlike top-flight programs or the Football Championship Subdivision teams that participate in playoffs, nothing truly counts for Southern except SWAC games.
Saturday’s Atlanta Classic will make for an exciting weekend, but in the end, it doesn’t matter.
The FAMU matchup is an emotionally charged practice game, giving SU another chance to work on its problems and gear up for a conference title run. The timing is especially appropriate when you consider that Southern blew a 16-point lead against the Rattlers last season.
During a week where interim coach Dawson Odums was already planning to stress fourth-quarter performance, he has that as an added motivational tool.
And the schedule works in SU’s favor going forward as well. The Jaguars will have two very winnable games against Alcorn State and Texas Southern before taking on SWAC West leaders Arkansas-Pine Bluff, and three of their toughest games come at the very end against Alabama A&M, Alabama State and Grambling.
All that sets up for this team to keep gaining momentum before the games that will decide their season.
But of course, the real question is whether Southern — which has already squandered one gift from the scheduling gods (MVSU) — can turn that schedule from a friendly blank slate to a string of Ws.