Midway through the season, the Southern football coaching staff realized it had more offensive weapons that it could use.
They decided sophomore wide receiver Justin Morgan’s versatility and freshman wide receiver Randall Menard’s explosiveness could provide a boost to the offense.
They had seen the potential in practice and felt the youngsters were ready to realize that potential in games.
“We looked at the teams we were playing, and they had one or two players that their offense was designed to get the ball to,” Jaguars coach Dawson Odums said Monday. “We said, ‘we have four or five explosive guys. Let’s figure out a way to get the ball to all of them.’ ”
“It’s a credit to our offensive staff that they’ve been able to do that. It’s good to see us going down the stretch with those guys making plays.”
Morgan’s receiving statistics have gone up — he has six catches in the past three games after having just one through the first six games — but it’s in the running game where has had had the bigger impact.
Southern has inserted him at quarterback in the Wildcat formation. He had his first carry of the season for 6 yards against Arkansas-Pine Bluff three weeks ago, and he scored a touchdown on a 9-yard run against Alcorn State two weeks ago.
Then last Friday, he got eight carries and gained 53 yards against Texas Southern. The biggest gainer was a 27-yard run from punt formation that led to the Jaguars’ first touchdown and triggered a 21-0 blitz in a 31-24 victory.
It’s a play the Jaguars had practiced with Morgan as far back as last season and continued to work on before unleashing it against TSU.
“We came in this week, and we went and rode with it,” Morgan said.
Co-offensive coordinator Chad Germany said Southern was looking for “a spark” on offense when it started incorporating the Wildcat into the game plans.
“It’s something we repped a lot last year, and we’ve continued to rep it,” Germany said. “It gives us a way to get the ball directly in his hands, where he’s allowed to make plays. It really helped us last week.”
Menard, who like Morgan, played quarterback in high school, didn’t play in the first three games and didn’t have a reception in the next three. But he had four catches for 42 yards against Pine Bluff and three for 119 and two touchdowns against Alcorn.
Though he had just one catch against TSU, it was a big one as he turned a hitch route into a 65-yard touchdown with a spin move and a sprint to the end zone.
“As a freshman, he has to earn his stripes, and he had to learn the system, but you see him make plays in practice he has the prototypical body (6-foot-3, 186 pounds),” co-offensive coordinator Chennis Berry said. “He’s aggressive and attacking with the football. He’s still growing and learning because it’s his first time at the collegiate level, but the sky’s the limit for him.”
Odums said he saw enough of Menard’s ability on the scout team in practice earlier in the season to convince him to dismiss the idea of a redshirt season and take advantage of the Breaux Bridge product’s talent right away.
“You could see all the skills and his desire to be good,” Odums said. “His work ethic is tremendous. He has deceptive speed. He’s very, very fast, and it’s scary because you look at that frame and you think he can’t possibly run that fast, but he is blessed with tremendous speed and you see what can happen when you get the ball to a guy who can run.”
Menard’s playmaking ability is making it harder for defenses to focus on senior receiver Lee Doss, who remains Southern’s top target. Doss leads the team with 59 catches for 869 yards and six touchdowns.
“That’s one freshman who I think has opened everybody’s eyes,” Morgan said of Menard, who as a freshman is not available for interviews. “He’s ready to play. I could tell that when he got here.”
Since the emergence of Morgan and Menard, the Jaguars have gained more than 350 yards in total offense in each of the last three games, their only such streak this season. They have been remarkably steady, gaining 395, 367 and 359 in successive weeks.
They’ll try to continue the trend when they visit Alabama State on Saturday and throughout the rest of the season.
“Those guys have been developing since camp,” Berry said. “They’ve been making plays in practice and had the speed and the wiggle you’re looking for. When we saw the ball in their hands they were making plays. Though they’re young they can make plays and have been the last few games.”
Berry said there’s more the Jaguars can do with Morgan in the Wildcat.
“We’re excited and we want to get him more reps and find more ways to get the ball in his hands,” Berry said. “There are a variety of things we can do with him and we’re just waiting to bring it out at the right time.”