If I told you that not one but three teams from the Sun Belt nearly knocked off three opponents in one season against teams in the SEC and Big Ten would you have believed me? The Sun Belt may have to refresh their hashtag from #FunBelt to #GiantKIller. Georgia State nearly pulled off the upset of the year over the then ninth-ranked team in the country – Wisconsin Badgers. Appalachian State took Tennessee to the brink only to fall short in overtime.
That takes us to the next opponent up on the Panthers schedule – the South Alabama Jaguars – who did manage to knock off a team from the great Southeastern Conference. Mississippi State entered 2016 in the post-Dak Prescott era. You know the same Dak Prescott currently lighting it up in the NFL for the Dallas Cowboys after Tony Romo suffered a broken bone in his back.
So they schedule a little team from Mobile, Alabama and invite them to open the Bulldogs 2016 season. The Jaguars head coach couldn’t have been more proud of his team as he left the field after the game after they defeated Mississippi State 21-20.
“I think there are teams in the Sun Belt Conference who have had those wins against the SEC. We were close a couple of years ago against Tennessee and had a chance to beat them and weren’t able to do that,” head coach Jones reminisced. “We came through today, though. To have that opportunity against a SEC West team who is extremely well ‐ coached, has very good athletes, and the tradition they have here at Mississippi State is a blessing [to our program].”
- So you’re probably saying to yourself “C’mon Woody… it was Mississippi State. It’s not like they played a top 10 team in the country.” However, lest I remind you the Bulldogs were once a top-five team in the country not long ago.
The Jaguars finally found their 15 minutes of fame shocking the college football world. That feeling of being on cloud nine lasted exactly one week at South Alabama’s home opener against “that team down south.” South Alabama wasn’t able to make the same kind of turnaround they did the week before and fell to the Eagles 24-9.
“We couldn’t really find a rhythm,” sophomore quarterback Dallas Davis said about the rough outing at home against the Eagles. “That’s a tough defense we were up against, and we weren’t able to execute as well as we wanted to.”
With South Alabama back on solid ground, they would split the next five games 2-3, with all three losses to Sun Belt foes Louisiana-Lafayette, Arkansas State and last week versus Troy. Their lone wins in that stretch included a very close game against Nicholls State, who nearly knocked off that team in Athens two weeks earlier, and San Diego State.
With Georgia State on the road, it is important to understand how South Alabama is performing on their home turf. In the last four seasons, South Alabama is averaging 3 wins at home a season and already have 2 in 2016. With the exception of the Eagles, the Jaguars are averaging 28 points per game and allowing teams to score an average of 29.
So far on offense, this season South Alabama is averaging 358 yards per game so far this season led by sophomore quarterback Dallas Davis. Davis is completing less than 60% of his passes for a total of 1761 yards. His primary target has been Lithonia, Georgia native tight end Gerald Everett, who has 34 receptions for 567 yards. The Jaguars haven’t been very successful on the ground with only 744 yards led by junior running back Xavier Johnson.
Stopping the run hasn’t exactly been South Alabama’s forte this year. Opponents have 1511 yards on just 309 attempts and 12 touchdowns. With Taz Bateman out for the season and Kyler Neal possibly out, this is a weakness the Panthers need to expose and get Tra Barnett and Kendrick Dorn some room to run and control the clock. When defending the pass, the Jaguars have been slightly more stout allowing 1252 yards and 7 touchdowns. Conner Manning will be keeping a close eye on senior defensive lineman Randy Allen who has recorded more than seven sacks and 13 tackles for a loss so far this season.
Georgia State is 2-3 versus South Alabama as they head to Mobile, Alabama. The Panthers have never defeated the Jaguars at Ladd-Peebles Stadium with a win. In those games, however, Georgia State has only lost by a total of 8 points.
To refresh your memory from this matchup a season ago at the Georgia Dome, it was the defense that really made a difference in the 24-10 win last season.
“Up front, the way they lined up was a little different, it gave us some problems,” then senior offensive lineman Chris May said following the loss. “We practiced against their looks, but we didn’t make the plays when they needed to be made.”
That defense held the Jaguars to a total of 282 yards of offense and quarterback Cody Clements completed 14 of 34 passes. Their leading receiver in the game, Danny Woodson, had only three receptions for 28 yards. Run defense limited three rushers to under 50 yards and an average of 4.6 yards per rush and one touchdown.
“They are a good team and much improved, my hat’s off to them,” South Alabama head coach Joey Jones acknowledged. “I knew good and well that their quarterback was good and defensively they are much better. They outplayed us.”
Like Texas State a few weeks ago, the Panthers will have a shot at evening the series against the Panthers and notching a third W in their belt for the 2016 season. Georgia State and South Alabama will battle it out at 5 p.m. on ESPN3.