By Mike McCall
I don’t think any of us saw that coming.
Southern’s 28-21 win at Jackson State was quite the shocker after losing to Mississippi Valley State and going through a coaching shake-up, but if there’s one thing it proved, it’s that the Jaguars really were just a few simple tweaks away from being a winning team.
Those small things were blocking, catching, turnovers and hustle — all areas where they were vastly improved. The blocking and catching meant quarterback Dray Joseph didn’t have to run for his life, and he also had enough confidence in his wideouts that he never had to force the kind of throws that have gotten him in trouble in the past. Instead, he was 18 of 25 for 249 yards and three touchdowns.
With zero interceptions thrown and one fumble (on a Joseph run up the middle), Southern won the turnover battle for the first time behind two picks, and the defense really clamped down until the fourth quarter, when JSU brought in QB Dedric McDonald and scored 21 straight. In the hustle department, SU made the big plays that were sorely missed in its two losses: a kickoff return TD, a blocked punt, and a 60-yard catch-and-run TD by receiver Mike Berry.
Those four building blocks were put in place during practices last week, when interim coach Dawson Odums hammered home that the Jaguars needed to play with passion and discipline. With former coach Stump Mitchell watching from the stands, they did.
Was it perfect? No. Southern nearly collapsed in the fourth quarter and had 136 penalty yards — areas that have to be the focus for this week. Also, while the offense looked great early on, it stalled late and would have been overcome if not for that excellent special teams play and defense in the first half.
I’m not buying the ideas that new play-calling is the difference and SU’s problems are solved, but based on expectations going in, the Jaguars are in an extremely positive place. They’re only half a game out in the SWAC West, and with a game against Florida A&M looming, they get another chance to work out some kinks without harming their conference record.