Southern seeks complete game at Alabama State

The Southern football team has won one more game than it did all of last season.

The Jaguars are headed to the Southwestern Athletic Conference Championship game after clinching the Western Division title when Prairie View A&M lost to Alcorn State on Thursday night.

But coach Dawson Odums would like to see his team prove something this week — that it can beat one of the better teams in the SWAC.

Alabama State offers that opportunity at 1 p.m. Saturday in Montgomery, Ala.

The Jaguars (5-4 and 5-2 in the league) will be challenged by the Hornets (6-3, 6-1), whom Odums said is the most talented team Southern has faced.

“We beat one football team that has a winning record (Prairie View A&M before falling to .500 Thursday),” Odums said. “It’s time we start to show up against the good teams. We’re still trying to find our way against good football teams.

“I think they understand that they can play against the better teams in this conference from a record standpoint. We played a lot of teams down to the wire, but we’ve come up short.”

Southern’s other four victories have come against teams with a combined record of 7-28 — Mississippi Valley State (1-8), Alabama A&M (3-6), Arkansas-Pine Bluff (1-7) and Texas Southern (2-7).

The Jaguars lost close games to 7-2 Jackson State (19-14) and 8-3 Alcorn (44-38).

“The main thing for us is to put it all together,” defensive end Kadeem Lewis said. “A lot of people are probably saying we can’t beat a winning team, but that’s not true.”

A victory would guarantee at least a breakeven record for Southern, which has a nonconference game against Clark and the Bayou Classic meeting against Grambling left in the regular season.

“This game is about a lot of things,” junior safety Omar Dixon said. “It’s about taking that next step forward in our program. This is a good team, they have a winning record, so if we beat this team it’ll be good for our confidence as a team.

“We really need this win. We haven’t been able to put a three-game wining streak together all season or since I’ve been here. So we want to win the month of November and build some momentum.”

Odums said he’d also like to see a more consistent effort from his team. Last week, the Jaguars had a 28-10 lead against Texas Southern, but didn’t secure a 31-24 victory until they recovered an onside kick with a little more than a minute to play.

“I think you get complacent, I think it’s turnovers and I think it’s just having energy throughout the game,” Odums said. “We play up sometimes, we play down sometimes, so the guys have to understand that you have to play at a high level from start to finish.”

That likely will be a requirement to beat the Hornets, who have the top running game in the SWAC — 243.9 yards per game.

The Jaguars run defense is eighth, allowing 228.4 per game.

Alabama State has two running backs who have more yards than SU’s top rusher, Lenard Tillery (499 yards).

Isaiah Crowell, who was the Southeastern Conference Freshman of the Year at Georgia in 2011 before transferring, has 917 yards, a 6.8 average and 13 touchdowns. Malcolm Cyrus has 737 yards and is averaging 6.1 yards per carry.

“I went to sleep last night and I saw (Cyrus),” Odums said. “I woke up and I saw Crowell. I came to work and they just seem to be everywhere. They’re very explosive.”

The Hornets are a balanced team as they rank second in the SWAC in total offense and scoring and they are tied with Alabama A&M for the top rushing defense and lead in sacks.

It’s that level of play on both sides of the ball that the Jaguars are seeking. They are sixth in total offense and seventh in total defense.

“We’ve won five games and that’s the most we’ve won since I’ve been here,” senior quarterback Dray Joseph said. “The crazy part is we haven’t put a complete game together. We haven’t had the defense, offense and special teams all play well in the same game.”