Many white flags and towels were waved at Cowboy Stadium last Saturday. Fans waved towels in hopes of cooling off from the hot Lake Charles temperatures at kickoff, and the flag twirlers of the McNeese State marching unit waved their flags in hopes of providing spirited entertainment to the record crowd of 20,437 fans.
The Southern University Jaguars football team waved their towels in hopes of rallying the team to overcome the “money grab” game stereotypes and use the momentum from last year’s Bayou Classic victory and being one win away from a Celebration Bowl berth to propel them to victory over the McNeese State Cowboys.
The 101st season of Jaguar football looked very promising in the first quarter under new defensive coordinator Lionel Washington, as Southern’s defense started hot. A first down hit-stick from senior linebacker Benjamin Harris was followed by a forced fumble that turned into a 15-yard loss, leading to an early 3-and-out for the Cowboys.
The ensuing bad punt allowed the Jaguar offense to have possession at midfield. Featuring a balanced rushing attack of quarterback LaDarius Skelton, tailback Devon Benn, and wideout Jamar Washington, along with receptions from Timothy Bedford and Hunter Register, the Jags were able to reach the red zone, with a missed field goal keeping the game scoreless.
Momentum was still on the Jaguar sideline as the defense forced another 3-and-out, but McNeese stole the spotlight after forcing a muffed punt on special teams. Their up tempo, no huddle rushing offense allowed them to strike first, making the score 7-0.
Skelton and the offense responded quickly however, scoring on a 33-yard touchdown pass play to Bedford. The first quarter ended tied at 7.
The opening minutes of the second quarter saw Register scoring on a deep post route for a 43-yard touchdown, giving Southern a 14-7 lead. The Cowboys closed the gap to 4 after making a field goal. The second quarter showcased SU’s ability to hang with anybody offensively, before a Skelton fumble late in the first half turned into a touchdown for McNeese, giving the Cowboys a 17-14 edge at the half.
The Southern offense turned into a shell of itself for most of the second half. “I thought at the beginning of the game we had a locked-in football team, but then as the game went on, the miscues started adding up,” said head coach Dawson Odums postgame.
After forcing another Skelton fumble, McNeese would score again to increase their lead to 24-14. Backup QB Glendon McDaniel would see action, replacing Skelton midway through the third quarter.
The defense withstood another SU muffed punt (the fourth turnover of the day), and a missed McNeese field goal gave Southern the ball entering the final 15 minutes of play still only down 10. Southern fumbled the ball yet again early in the fourth quarter, sealing the fate of the game before it was over. Credit should be given to McDaniel who was able to lead the offense into the endzone twice to close the point margin to within one possession. Ultimately, the game ended with the Jags losing 34-28
Register would finish the game with four catches for 82 yards and 2 scores. McDaniel’s final stat line was 11/19 for 135 yards and a TD. After the game, Odums confirmed that Skelton was not injured, but was benched based on his in-game performance.
Skelton’s 2 first half touchdown passes proved that his arm should not be doubted, but holding on the football will likely be a point of emphasis for him leading into next week’s game vs. Memphis.
To simply say the Jaguars ‘waved the white flag’ or ‘threw in the towel’, without giving proper context, is an insult to how the team performed. It is fair to say that they dropped the ball, because they did—five times. “The biggest outcome of the night [was] the turnovers,” said Coach Odums, “It’s hard to beat anybody when you turn the ball over 5 times.”
To put in perspective, neither team was jaw dropping on offense, as some of the most impactful plays came from referees distributing flags to both teams. However, the Southern shotgun spread attack made it difficult to take advantage of the run game, especially in short yardage situations. The special teams unit will also need to improve its ability to secure possessions. The defense looked very impressive, but being on the field most of the game was not favorable to them.
“We’ll challenge them, and they’ll respond,” said Odums when asked what goals would be worked on during the week. Look to see this team make the necessary adjustments at Memphis next Saturday.