LORMAN, Miss. — For a team that had just fallen in heartbreaking fashion and seen its brief win streak dashed, Southern took its 20-17 loss to Alcorn State remarkably well.
Unlike in the Jaguars’ last loss, which came to Mississippi Valley State, there wasn’t a flood of tears or seething anger.
Disappointed? Sure. But that’s really all this amounted to — a disappointing outing that put the kibosh on some grandiose visions of where their season could go.
Mathematically, Southern is still in the Southwestern Athletic Conference title hunt. At 1-2 in the conference and a game-and-a-half behind Arkansas-Pine Bluff, all it takes is six straight wins to book a spot in the SWAC Championship.
But unlike at this time last week, when SU was coming off back-to-back victories and on top of the world, that doesn’t seem likely.
Southern was outworked by a struggling Alcorn team, dispelling the notion that the Jaguars were somehow invincible under interim coach Dawson Odums.
Now, these facts are plain to see without the excitement and optimism of wins to cover them up:
- Southern has no offensive rhythm. While there have been big plays and a few good drives over the past three weeks, the Jaguars have yet to put together a consistent performance without going stagnant for large portions of games.
- The running game can’t be counted on for much. Even against a team that came in allowing more than 250 yards per game on the ground, Southern managed 42 yards. Take away all of the plays where the Jaguars lost yards (including sacks and bad snaps), and it was still only a 90-yard day.
- While resilient and playing well enough to win games, the defense can’t do it alone. SU forced two turnovers and hasn’t allowed more than 21 points in the past four games, but having to stay on the field for long periods of time will eventually catch up to the unit.
- And even though special teams has produced lots of big plays, the shakiness of the kicking game is still a major concern. Give Southern a decent kicking game, and instead of a blocked 43-yard field goal and extra point — both on low kicks — the Jaguars hit those and win 21-20.
Simply put, there’s no one phase of the game that could be expected to bail the others out and come up with major victories.
And now, instead of sitting pretty with momentum and a pain-free road victory, the Jaguars are in a predicament they haven’t seen since 2005, the last time they lost to both Valley and Alcorn in the same year.
Only two teams in the past five years have reached the conference title game after doing that, and both of them lost.
That doesn’t mean Southern’s season is over, and none of the above is truly a major surprise.
The Jaguars have plenty to play for and enough talent to pull it off, but after pumping up some sky-high dreams in the last two weeks, the bubble has deflated significantly.
It’s not the end of the world.
“We’re not upset,” Odums said. “I’m not upset with the guys. This is a part of it. You win some and lose some, and you hate to lose, but guess what? This isn’t our last ball game.”
It’s just a big opportunity wasted, and it’s a big disappointment.