"If they put their pants on one leg at a time, we've got a chance. If you see anybody who jumps in there with both legs at the same time, call timeout. We're getting on the bus and coming on back home. A lot of our guys can play football at a higher level that didn't get the opportunity to do so, and this is a great way for them to go prove themselves," the second year head coach commented via the advocate.com.
Odums was promoted to head coach (from his role as defensive coordinator) two games into the season last year replacing Stump Mitchell, leading Southern on a two game winning streak – their first since 2009. The Jaguars are 10-23 over the past three seasons and haven't won a SWAC championship since 2003. The first time head coach finished the season 4-5 in his nine games and is intent on changing the program's losing mind set, "What I do know is that we have a team that is tired of losing. We've got enough guys in this program who want to win, but we don't talk about it as winning. We talk about what's required to be a champion. We've got enough guys in this program who want to be a part of that."
Southern lost six games last season by four points or fewer, including their final three contests (including back-to-back one-point losses to Alabama A&M and Alabama State). What was the main reason for many of these losses? Defense - the Jaguars ranked sixth or worse in conference in passing defense, pass-efficiency defense and interceptions. Odum's defense allowed opponents to convert 39.1 percent of the time on third down, the second-highest rate in the SWAC. Once inside the red zone, opponents scored 79.5 percent of the time, which ranked Southern ninth in the SWAC. Odums will continue calling the plays for his defense though the rest of his defensive coaches will have the title of ‘co-defensive coordinator' in a move to promote staff unity.
The Jaguars run a base 3-4 scheme in order to take advantage of their abundance of linebackers, led by All-SWAC selection Anthony Balancier. The 6-foot-2, 225 pound senior led the team last season with 68 tackles, including 11.5 for loss, along with 4.5 sacks, and 2 forced fumbles and interceptions. Joining him outside will be Detrane Lindsey and/or Jason Dykes at the outside ‘Jack' linebacker spot, which is a hybrid OLB/safety inserted into the lineup in order to combat spread offenses such as the Cougars. Lindsey is a 6'0, 215 pound redshirt junior who had 36 tackles last season while Dykes played in the secondary in only 3 games as a true freshman and is 5'8, 180 pounds. Inside at the Sam and Mike inside spots respectively, the foursome that will rotate include Daniel Brown/Treveyon Evans at Sam and Antonio Garrett/Franchiot West at Mike. West was Southern's second leading tackler with 62 while Brown contributed with 28. Noticeable are the weights of the crew as none of the four weigh in over 220 pounds except for Brown (244). This is considerably light considering they'll carry the brunt of the load in trying to handle the Cougars offensive line consisting of Ralph Oragwu, Rowdy Harper, Bryce Redman, Kevin Forsch and Zach Johnson (from left to right tackle). The five bring a combined 65 starts to the season opener, though only 28 at their respective positions (Forsch with 20 at right guard and Redman 8 last season at center). Oragwu had 10 starts last season at right tackle but has been moved to left tackle, with Harper taking his 26 combined starts at both tackle spots over the course of his career to left guard, all because Ty Cloud (and his 26 career starts) is on the shelf with an injured knee. What the five-some lacks in experience they more than make up for in sheer size, averaging about 302 pounds per man. The job of "keeping the linebackers clean" for Southern's defensive front belongs to Gabe Echols at the nose with Justin Woods and Arthur Miley flanking him at both end spots. Woods and Echols are both sophomores that tip the scales at just over 300 pounds with Miley adding an athletic 220 pounds to his 6'6 frame. Miley and Kadeem Lewis (6'2, 270, R-Sr) lead the returning down linemen with 3 and 2 sacks respectively. It's easy to see why Odums wants to get more linebackers on the field as the team sacked opposing QBs just 21 times last season in 11 games.
It will be interesting to see whether or not UH's new offensive coordinator, Doug Meacham, tries to bring more balance to the Cougars ‘Air Raid' attack. Last season the Cougars passed the ball about 50 times per game, compared to 32 rushing attempts. I'd like to see that balance out a little more at say maybe a 40/40 rate, though that may be out of the question in their pass happy attack. Returning Cougars running backs Kenneth Farrow (5'11, 216) and Ryan Jackson (5'10, 183) should both have nice games against Southern with the Coogs inside/out zone rushing scheme, as I don't see how the Jaguars smallish front seven can keep even with the Cougars O-line (new as they may be to their positions) in getting worn down as the game progresses. Also look for both backs to catch at least a few passes on swing routes out of the backfield as the Jaguars linebackers just don't have the speed or athleticism to keep up with the Cougars super sophomores.
As far as Southern's secondary is concerned, their leader and All-SWAC pre-season selection is cornerback Virgil Williams, who's also entering the 2013 season as a fourth year starter. Don't let the 5'9, 180 pound senior's small frame fool you; he's not afraid to mix it up as his five tackles for loss (amongst his 62) will tell you. Joining him at corner will be DeAndre Woodland (2 interceptions) and Jaleel Richardson (7 tackles in 10 games). At strong safety Jamaal Martin (6'2, 175) returns after starting the final three games last season and manning the free safety spot will be South Alabama transfer Dionte McDuffy. The 6'1, 205 pounder has been making a reputation during Southern's summer practices as a hard hitter, especially on crossing patterns over the middle on unsuspecting wide receivers.
The Cougars wide receiver core this secondary will be responsible for slowing down is not only solid but deep, as they don't have just have one star receiver. Leading the way will be Deontay Greenberry and Daniel Spencer at the inside ‘Y' and ‘H' spots respectively with the explosive Larry McDuffey and Xavier Maxwell at the outside ‘X' and ‘Z' positions. All four averaged between 20 and 60 receiving yards per game as starting QB David Piland spread the ball around a-plenty last season. Expected to see time at receiver is veteran Aaron Johnson and redshirt freshman Andrew Rodriquez with true freshmen John Leday and Demarcus Ayers also listed on the 2-deep.
Speaking of Piland (whom hopes to improve on his 6-12 record over his two years as a starter), head coach Tony Levine named the redshirt junior his starting QB late last week but says the staff "has a plan" on when they'll bring in true freshmen John O'Korn and Greg Ward. I'll be interested to see if we see a legit QB rotation; as in bringing in O'Korn in on say every third possession or if he and Ward only see time once the game gets out of hand. Regardless, I'm looking to see how decisive Piland is with his reads/progressions and if he's eliminated his "happy feet" in the pocket which has led to inaccuracy passing that caused the offense to bog down plenty of times last season. The Cougars need more than 266 passing yards per game, a 57 percent accuracy rate and not even a 2:1 TD/Int ratio, which were Piland's numbers last season, if this team expects a successful season. It's obvious he has the tools to win; otherwise the coaches wouldn't have chosen him as the starter.
While Levine and Cougar nation think they know what they have in Piland, Southern knows for sure about their starting QB, All-SWAC preseason offensive player of the year Dray Joseph, who passed for 2,511 yards last season with 25 TDs to only 7 interceptions. Protecting him will be a massive offensive line led by returning center Aaron Hall (6'2, 331), Dwayne Houston (6'4, 310) at left guard, Zach Brown (6'4, 320 out of Missouri City's Elkins High) at left tackle, Eric Janeau (6'4, 225) at right tackle and LSU transfer Corey White (6'5, 330) at right guard. Opposing this line, which averages 302 pounds per man even with Janeau listed at 225 (which I think may be a mistake), will be a defensive front that is looking to improve on last season's disappointing season, led by new defensive coordinator David Gibbs. In the first year coordinators multiple scheme the impact player will be "rush" end Eric Eiland. The 6'2, 236 pounder will be backed up by JC transfer Trevor Harris (6'5, 235) in hoping to use their athleticism from a 2-point stance (standing) instead of the usual 3-point (which would usually be the case for a 4-3 defensive end). Also look for true freshman Chauntez Jackson (6'4, 254) to join the fray at end, even though he's not listed in the 2-deep as coaches have said he's been ripping it up during practice. Joining them along the line will be big Joey Mbu (6'3, 312, Jr.) and sophomore Tomme Mark (6'3, 288) at tackle, who MUST hold up at the point of attack while staying in their run fits as not to over pursue, which leads to huge cut back lanes for opposing running backs. At the strong end spot the experienced Eric Braswell (6'5, 268, all CUSA Freshmen team two seasons ago) returns with redshirt freshman Cameron Malveaux (6'6, 252) backing him up. The group must play stouter up front if they wish to improve upon their run defense in which they allowed 192 rushing yards per game last season.
Jaguars offensive coordinator Chad Germany run's a West Coast scheme designed to get the ball out of the QB's hands quickly, allowing his playmakers to get out along the edge and make plays in space (like just about every other team in the college game these days). In order to improve upon their passing game however, they must improve their running game which rushed for an anemic average of 79.5 yards per game last season, which was last in the SWAC. Darrius Coleman is their leading returning rusher and he only averaged 26 yards per game (in seven games). The 5'7, 175 senior is backed up by true freshman Kylum Favorite who isn't much bigger at 185 pounds. Redshirt freshman Lenard Tillery was running first team after spring but won't play with an injured knee. Stopping these running backs in their tracks will be the job of the Cougars linebacking core led by junior Mike linebacker Derrick Mathews. With 26 straight starts and over 100 plus career tackles in each of his first two seasons, Mathews is without question the defensive leader of the team and in moving to the Mike spot will be responsible for calling out the defensive alignments to his teammates on the field. Moving to the middle allows him to play from sideline-to-sideline as opposing offensive coordinators can't design plays away from him. Replacing Mathews at the Will (or weakside) spot will be veteran George Bamfo. The 5'11, 218 pound senior has played in 34 career games but time is running short on realizing his potential. Playing at the strongside spot will be redshirt freshman Steve Taylor (6'0, 211) and junior Efrem Oliphant (6'1, 230), both whom have a lot to replace in Phillip Steward, who's currently on the injured reserve list of the St. Louis Rams. In reserve will be Elandon Roberts (6'1, 223) who had over 100 tackles as a true freshman for FCS member Morgan State last season and TSU transfer walk-on Adrian Bennett (6'1, 216).
Catching passes from Joseph will be an unheralded group of receivers led by All-SWAC selection Lee Doss. The 6'2, 170 pound senior isn't afraid of contact as he caught 65 passes last season for 703 yards with 8 TDs. Their second and third returning leading receivers are tight ends Bradley Coleman and Rashum Allen with 171 and 141 yards respectively. Coleman is more of an athletic slot receiver at 6'5, 210 pounds as the redshirt sophomore averaged 19 yards per reception on his 9 catches, with Allen more of an in-line blocker (6'3, 260). Competing for playing time at receiver includes Chuck Baker (6'2, 190, Fr.), Mike Jones (6'0, 180, R-So.), Willie Quinn (5'6, 175, So.), Justin Morgan (5'10, 175, So.), Sam Altman (6'0, 180, R-Jr.), Thomas Jackson (6'2, 210, R-Sr.) and Dontrell Brown, a 5'11 185 pound freshman whom was called out by Coach Odums for his impressive play during their final scrimmage. One to keep an eye on is Baker, as he's the Jaguars ‘Deontay Greenberry' - he was Southern's highest ranked recruit ever as he was ESPN's 205th rated prospect for the 2013 signing class. Quinn has also impressed the staff after missing all of last season due to grades and Jones is a member of Southern's 4X100 track team.
The Cougars secondary that will matchup against these unproven Jaguars receivers are led by free safety Trevon Stewart (5'9, 192) who led all freshmen nationally last season with 126 tackles. The freshman All-American will be joined by fellow ‘super sophomore' Adrian McDonald (5'10, 191) at strong safety, who's been making plays all over the field during practice over the summer according to Coach Levine, "He loves to play the game, is very instinctive and loves to come up and tackle. He is one of our most sure tacklers." Returning at cornerback are seniors Zach McMillian and Thomas Bates, whom bring a combined 31 starts (25 for McMillian over the previous three seasons) to the position. That experience won't matter much if they play inconsistently however, with youngsters Brandon Wilson (5'11, 195, RFr.) and JC transfer William Jackson (6'1, 175) breathing down their necks. The secondary for the Cougars must learn to communicate more effectively if they are to improve on their disappointing 290 passing yards allowed per game from last season.
The Cougars also hold the edge in the battle of special teams, led by senior Richie Leone – who opens as both the place kicker and punter over true freshman Ty Cummings. Leone averaged over 45 yards per punt last season and is a nice weapon in ‘flipping the field.' Starting the season at punt and kickoff returns are McDuffey and Ayers, respectively. Hopefully the speed of both youngsters leads to better field position for the offense. For Southern, along with his duties at shutdown corner, Williams was an All-SWAC punt returner as he averaged 10.4 yards per return. Jaleel Richardson averaged over 26 yards per kick return and returned one 86 yards for a TD last season.
Coach Levine was asked about game planning for Southern at his first weekly media press conference of the season on Tuesday, "They've got a new staff as well. Because of them being number one (on our schedule), because of their new coaching staff and because of lack of film on them it's been about Houston. Our plan is to go and execute offensively, execute defensively, execute in the kicking game and do the things that we have to do to win football games regardless of our opponent. There's a number of things that we're focused on that whether we're playing Southern, Temple, Louisville, Rutgers, it doesn't matter. We have to do those things. Because this is the first game, it's a new coaching staff and not much film, the emphasis has been on Houston," the second season head coach said via uhcougars.com.
I look for the Cougars to get out to a fast start overwhelming the FCS foe early on with a more determined focus coming off of last year's disappointing season as Levine pointed out during the presser, "Someone asked me a while ago what our motto was last season and I said `I've forgotten everything from last season.' I certainly haven't but it's like that old saying, we're looking through the windshield, not the rear view mirror. We're looking ahead and I think our team, and some people might say this is coach speak but it's true, is a completely different team. We have four new full-time coaches on our staff. We have about 43, 44 guys now including Markeith Ambles, who weren't even here last year. It has a whole new feel to it. One of the biggest examples, at least as a coach and certainly in the program, is sitting in here as a team last week and having our student-athletes vote on six captains, and those captains being a sophomore, three juniors and two seniors. That tells me a lot. We're not allowed to be out there during the summertime but you can see that the attendance in the weight room is as good as it's ever been. The player-run practices, I know they were great because when the guys showed up for practice three weeks ago we could immediately see improvement. There's a lot of leadership right now in our program from our student-athletes from freshmen all the way to fifth-year seniors. That's why our guys and everybody in our program are just excited to get the first game underway and get going."
One school of thought concerning this game is that the Cougars will get out to a quick early lead only to let the foot off the pedal as to not show their offensive and defensive playbooks to the rest of their opponents. I go with the opposite; after getting out to a huge early lead, though the coaches will substitute a lot of young players, the staff wants to build up player confidence along with the fact that they'll actually give their future opponents more to game plan for during practice each week so I don't think we'll see any "let up" in the Cougars game.
Final Prediction: Houston 41 Southern 17