Takeaways from Southern University’s 2023 Spring game

Today, Southern University held their annual spring game at A.W. Mumford Stadium in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. There was a decent turnout at the game, as Jaguar fans came to watch their teams first on-the-field action since early December, as well as today being Junior day, where all upcoming high school seniors come for an official visit to campus. Fans saw a mix of returning stars and newcomers through the transfer portal, and a nice variety of deep and short passes, screens, handoffs, and option plays. The game concluded with a score of 37-20, with the Gold team (all-time offense) taking the victory over the Blue team (all-time defense).

Eric Dooley took over Southern in 2022 and led the Jaguars to a 7-5 record which included a division win and a trip to the SWAC Championship, where Southern ultimately lost to the Deion Sanders-led Jackson State Tigers. Dooley improved this team by 3 wins, as the Jaguars finished 4-7 under interim head coach Jason Rollins in 2021. Dooley announced before the game that a decision on this coming season’s starting quarterback would be coming this week after the spring game, and it looks to be a tough decision. Three quarterbacks took snaps today: Harold Blood, Noah Bodden, and Dylan Mehrotra. Blood is entering his fourth season with the Jaguars and has two seasons of eligibility left, and looked to perhaps be the favorite to win the starting job. He threw a career high 19 passes last season, which leads him to have the most experience in the quarterback room. Blood threw multiple interceptions today, including a pick-six that was returned around 50 yards, with the nearest offensive player being around 10 yards away from the ball when intercepted. Blood had an up-and-down game, stepping up and making some very pretty throws down the sideline, while also making his fair share of mistakes. I will say that Blood showed excellent pocket presence.

Bodden looked like the least-developed passer out of the three. The transfer from Grambling State had many overthrown balls, but also made some very nice throws, including a couple while rolling out of the pocket. He also wasn’t given the green light to throw downfield a whole lot, as a lot of his action came on option plays and screen passes, as well as throws to the running backs out of the backfield. Bodden seems to be the fastest of the three quarterbacks, but like I said, has the weakest arm out of the group.

Dylan Mehrotra was an interesting player to watch. The former Episcopal High School and UAB quarterback made some very nice reads and stepped up to deliver some beautiful passes, but made his fair share of mistakes. In fact, all three quarterbacks threw passes today that hit defenders in the hands and should have been intercepted. Mehrotra was the least athletic of the three, but still used his legs several times today and wouldn’t be what I would call “slow”. Someone has to be last in every category. If Coach Dooley wants a traditional pocket-passing quarterback, Mehrotra is the closest player to that on this roster. All things considered, all three quarterbacks are very close together, and it will certainly be a story to follow heading into the season. Southern runs almost every play from the shotgun formation and is a very up-tempo team; that will certainly influence the decision.

Southern used a mix of four different running backs. Kobe Dillon saw the most action early. The sophomore rushed for 662 yards and 4 touchdowns as a freshman in 2021 before missing all of 2022 with a knee injury. He made his return to the field, sporting a knee brace. The running back who saw the most time today was Jerrod Sims, who saw a lot of action throughout last season and rushed for 408 yards, including 79 against LSU in Death Valley. Stats were not being recorded, but I would guess that Sims rushed for over 100 yards today, and added a couple of catches out of the backfield. Sims seems like the best all-around back on this team; he was constantly running over defenders while making others miss with quick footwork, sometimes on the same play. Two more running backs saw action. #22 is a transfer who’s name apparently doesn’t exist, as no roster list his name. The last back to see action was Braelen Morgan, a Junior from Catholic HS in Baton Rouge. Morgan is used as a gadget player, as he lines up at both running back and wide receiver, as well as returning kicks and punts. He made a couple of nice catches last in the 4th quarter.

The wide receiving core looked alright. There were a few drops, but overall, a lot of talent was shown between the group. Five receivers really stood out, including Senior Isaiah Taylor, who went up for some jump balls and had two very nice high-pointed catches. He is the best possession receiver on the roster currently. Darren Morris was another impressive receiver, who I would say is the best route runner on the team. He was able to get separation more often the others and made a lot of catches in the open field. Unfortunately, he went down in the end zone on an incomplete pass in the 3rd quarter and had to be helped to the sideline, where he was laid out on the medical table and was eventually seen on crutches on the sidelines for the remained of the game. Another receiver who played well was George Qualls, a double-transfer who started at Akron spent last season with UT-Martin. Qualls only had one notable catch, but it was an over-the-shoulder catch in the end zone for the first offensive score of the day. Two more receivers who impressed were Tyler Kirkwood and Cassius Allen, who each spent a decent amount of time on the field and came up with some big catches.

For tight ends, Dupree Fuller made several impressive catches in traffic including a 9-yard crossing route for a touchdown with just over a minute to go in the 4th quarter, the final scoring play of the game. He was the only tight end to make any notable plays today. Southern doesn’t feature a tight end in their offensive scheme very often.

The offensive line was hit and miss. They seemed to be winning at the line of scrimmage on running plays, as I can’t count on two hands how many 10+ rushes there were. They defiantly struggled against the pass, especially against the right side of the defensive line, as they allowed DL Ckelby Givens to rack up three sacks in the second half, but also allowed him to disrupt the pocket on nearly every passing play. Givens is listed as a defensive tackle, but has a smaller frame and played only on the edge today.

Another defensive lineman who impressed was Trey Laing, a transfer from East Mississippi JC who is entering his second season with the Jaguars. Laing only recorded one sack that I can remember, but joined Ckelby Givens in constantly getting great pressure on the quarterback, but from the other side.

The linebackers looked good, but not great. What I want to talk about is the defensive backs. They made some key plays that helped slow down the offense, but also made a ton of mistakes, including multiple (three or four) dropped interceptions, including one at the offenses 10 yard line that would have been a surefire touchdown. This secondary could’ve realistically finished with six interceptions on the day if every opportunity went their way. The starting outside cornerbacks, Rodney Johnson Jr and Kriston Davis, looked decent throughout the course of the game. They weren’t locking down the receivers, but weren’t giving up a lot of big chunk plays, as most of those for the offense came over the middle of the field. Davis did go down with an injury and was down for two minutes or so, but was able to walk it off. This was during the 4th quarter, and he did not see any more action afterwards.

Special teams seems to be a concerning issue for the Jaguars. Multiple snaps from long-snapper Braxton Blackwell, a transfer from Western Kentucky, were high, and this caused Junior Kicker Joshua Griffin to miss a pair of 48 yard attempts, one of which was way off of target due to the snap, and one of which hit the left upright. Griffin also missed another 40-ish yarder, right before the half. The kick looked good from the press box, but the score was never added to the scoreboard, so I think it’s safe to assume that the kick was missed. On the day, Griffin went 1-4, but not all three misses were his fault. Punting-wise, the Jaguars looked great. Alcorn State-transfer Robens Beauplan hit some beauties today, with a couple of his punts flying 50-plus yards down the field. Beauplan also served as the holder on field goals and extra points.

This was a pretty informative game for Southern. It looks like Coach Dooley knows who his starting quarterback will be to begin the season and will make the announcement soon, and we got to see some of SWAC’s best talent on display today.

This was the view from the Press Box