“I tell our guys that we’re not going to reinvent the wheel, we’re going to keep things simple so they can play fast.” Dawson odums, Southern football interim head coach
ATLANTA — With 2:17 to play and a one-touchdown lead, Southern’s defense took the field needing one more stop. To clinch a win, they’d have to keep Florida A&M from marching 38 yards into the end zone.
The Jaguars wavered and wobbled a bit, letting the Rattlers move all the way to the 6-yard line. But when the time came, they did the one thing they had talked about all week.
“We had a word of the week, and that was ‘finish,’ ” linebacker Anthony Balancier said. “So that’s all we were saying at the end, just ‘Finish, finish, finish.’ And we finished the game.”
Indeed, Southern held up in a 21-14 win, throwing a wrench into a rolling FAMU drive when Balancier and defensive end Arthur Miley combined for a sack and loss of seven. The Rattlers nearly recovered, but quarterback Damien Fleming’s fourth-down pass wasn’t near anyone, wrapping up the Jaguars’ Atlanta Classic victory in front of 41,042 in the Georgia Dome.
It was the SU defense that made the difference on the scoreboard too.
With FAMU facing a second-and-14 from its 35, Southern collapsed the pocket around Fleming, and linebacker Corry Roy jarred the ball loose. He scooped it and took off toward the left corner of the end zone but was caught near the 6-yard line, where he fumbled.
But in a case of right-place, right-time, linebacker Daniel Brown snatched the loose ball and rambled in for a touchdown that set the final score.
It was a wild way to make the difference, but Southern’s defense certainly left an impression with its big play.
“That was just a good hustle play,” Florida A&M coach Joe Taylor said. “I always tell my guys that everybody does not have the same talent, but nobody should out-hustle you. In that case, we just got out-hustled.”
“Basically, I just thought their energy level was higher,” Taylor added. “They wanted it, they played hard and they won the football game.”
That energy was the product of a week of practices where finishing was the motto. Southern had nearly blown a 28-0 lead last weekend against Jackson State, and in this game last season, SU squandered a 33-17 advantage to lose 38-33.
With the score tied midway through the fourth quarter, the defense was looking for any way it could to swing momentum.
“(The Rattlers) caused a turnover in the first half, so it was only right that we come in and cause a turnover that ended up helping us win the game,” Balancier said.
The defense did more than that. While they allowed Fleming to complete 30 of 35 passes for 256 yards and two scores, that was the extent of the damage.
Fleming attributed his high-yardage, low-score output to Southern’s tendency of keeping two safeties over the top to limit deep passes. That didn’t help on one play — Fleming’s 51-yard bomb to receiver Travis Harvey — but most of the rest of the damage came on shorter passes.
What’s more, SU held FAMU to just 3 of 13 third-down conversions.
“I believe in taking away what the other team does best, and that’s how we practiced,” Southern interim coach Dawson Odums said. “I tell our guys that we’re not going to reinvent the wheel, we’re going to keep things simple so they can play fast.”
And so when it came time to finish, Odums kept it simple. When the Rattlers lined up for their last play, he made sure Harvey — who finished with eight catches for 108 yards and two scores — was surrounded by Southern defenders.
There wasn’t much room to work, and Harvey didn’t even attempt to reach the back corner and snag Fleming’s pass.
“We got a coverage we really didn’t expect,” Fleming said.
“I don’t think (Harvey) was expecting the ball, and at the same time, I put a little
too much on it, and it just turned out to be a bad thing for us.”