Southern looking for better defense, faster offensive starts
Southern’s start to this season has been somewhat of an up-and-down ride.
The year started off with a 62-13 loss to Houston — a lopsided defeat that could be chalked up to the fact that Southern was an undermanned squad with only 63 scholarship players available compared to that of the 85 allotted to Football Bowl Subdivision Houston.
However, the following week, Southern was hit with a dose of reality as it traveled to Natchitoches to take on Northwestern State.
Before the in-state matchup, senior linebacker Anthony Balancier made an ill-advised comment toward Northwestern State leading up to the game.
The comments were plastered all over the Demons’ football facilities as reminders to what their opponents thought of them.
Northwestern State used the remarks as motivation and came out with a flurry, scoring the game’s first 31 points en route to a 55-14 victory.
Southern coach Dawson Odums, in his weekly press luncheon, vowed that changes would be made.
Odums’ statements were heard loud and clear when he suspended Balancier for the next game against Prairie View and also suspending star receiver Lee Doss for a quarter because of a violation of team rules.
“We’re going to have some changes this week,” Odums said before the Praire View contest. “And if guys aren’t doing what they’re supposed to be doing, then we’re going to have even more changes.
“If guys want to be on this football team, then they’re going to have to do things the right way.”
The suspensions and changes did little to ignite the struggling Jaguars as they headed to the locker room at halftime against Prairie View trailing 28-13.
Southern was outscored 145-40 in its first 10 quarters to start the season, which appeared to be heading to a lost year on The Bluff as Southern was a team in turmoil.
However, senior quarterback Dray Joseph and Doss led a furious rally in the second half that included a surge of scores between the two teams. Joseph and Doss connected nine times for 214 yards and three scores as Southern came from behind in a dramatic 62-59 victory in overtime.
“At halftime, I just told the players that they had worked too hard,” Odums said. “We hadn’t played our best football this year…We had to go out in the second half and compete.”
Southern traveled to Mississippi Valley State after the victory and put together a lethargic, yet good enough effort against the Delta Devils to move to 2-0 in conference before hosting rival Jackson State.
The matchup featured two of the remaining three unbeaten SWAC teams in conference play at the time, and the results showed as the Jaguars came up just inches short when Joseph’s fourth-down pass attempt in the final minute of the game fell through the outstretched arms of tight end Bradley Coleman, giving the Tigers a 19-14 victory.
Despite the rocky start, Southern finds itself atop the SWAC Western division standings as the first of two open dates this season passes.
Odums identified two key areas seeking improvement from the week of practice: Better rush defense and a better offensive start to games.
Southern entered Saturday eighth in the SWAC in rush defense, giving up 243.8 yard per contest. However, the Jaguars yielded just 248 yards in their last two games.
“As long as guys continue to be in position, we know we’ll get better,” Odums said.
Although the Southern offense features one of the league’s best quarterback-receiving tandems, the Jaguars have struggled to sustain drives, specifically in the first half.
Southern has scored 23 points in the first half this season compared to 84 points in the second.
“We addressed it this week,” Odums said. “But there’s nothing really you can do except execute. If we start executing, we’ll start fast. You’ve got to go out and simplify things and call plays that allow for the players to execute.”
Southern will come out of the open date as healthy as it has been all season.
The Jaguars are expected to welcome back fullback Brian McCain, who has been out all season with a leg injury.
However, Southern will be without sophomore defensive end Donald Phillips for the rest of the season with a lower leg injury.
Phillips, who was expected to be the team’s starting right defensive end, was injured in the Jaguars’ final tune-up scrimmage before the opening game.
Sophomore defensive end Christian Allen was a limited participant in practice this past week but is expected to be a full-go in the preparations leading up to Alabama A&M on Saturday.
“We’re getting healthy,” Odums said. “We’ve got six games in a row, and as long as we’re healthy, we have a chance.”