South Alabama Jaguars Preview
After falling just a few plays short of upsetting a strong Sam Houston State team (now ranked at #11), UTSA will host their first ever home game against a D1 opponent. Following a bye week last week, the South Alabama Jaguars will travel to San Antonio carrying a 2-2 record, with wins against West Alabama and Lamar and losses to FBS opponents North Carolina State and Kent State. While both teams sit in the dark of the proverbial FBS cellar (neither team have defeated an FBS opponent yet this year) USA should be heavily commended for playing both of these schools very tightly. South Alabama traded turnovers with NC St. until the end of the third quarter when the Wolfpack began to separate from the pack (ha-ha-ha). Kent State jumped out to a 33 point lead against the Jaguars whom would rally to bring the final score to 33-25 after a couple of squandered opportunities for South Alabama to send the game into overtime.
For those unfamiliar, South Alabama is a future FBS start up program. The team formed in 2009, but did not gain NCAA recognition as a varsity football program until 2010. This means that the team was able to play together for a year without losing a year of eligibility. USA will join the Sunbelt in a provisional role as a scheduling partner next year, then gain bowl eligibility in 2013. South Alabama has drawn a lot of attention since its inception by racking up a 17-0 record in the program’s first two years. While the bulk of these wins came against military academies and sub D1 programs, USA enjoyed notable wins against Southland Conference member Nicholls State, fellow D1 start-ups Lamar and Georgia State, and a thriller against UC Davis that was decided by a shanked field goal as the clock expired. The Jaguars were able to extend their winning streak in 2011 with home wins against West Alabama and Lamar before beginning their killer slate of two back to back FBS games.
Forewarning: USA is still undefeated against FCS opponents.
Brief aside: they totally jacked our “Still Undefeated” shirt.
As a rule of thumb, South Alabama is a team that plays with a lot of confidence and swagger. Whether this holds up during the program’s first ever losing streak remains to be seen. They hit hard, fight for every yard, and are well coached. Much akin to UTSA’s squad, the South Alabama roster is loaded with talent and flaws– Guys that are great players but lacking in one facet, whether it is sheer speed, girth, height, or academics.
Starting in the trenches, the Jaguars’ athleticsm among their big men impressed me. While their offensive line weighs in at a sub-280 lb. average, they compensate with footwork and assistance from their neighboring blockers. The Jaguars love to pull blockers on tosses and off tackle runs so Smith and Neill will need to be sure that they maintain their inner half on the line of scrimmage and clamp down on releasing blockers. USA’s offensive line does a great job of clearing out holes for their backs to jump through, providing ample space for their two feature backs to work their magic. If UTSA is able to seal up these patches up front as they did against Sam Houston State then South Alabama will be forced to drastically alter their run-first game plan. USA shifted into a five receiver set at times during their game against NC St., I would look for them to duplicate this on Saturday against UTSA’s big and nasty defensive front four. Despite USA’s three senior starters on the offensive line(and three Texans), I feel confident that UTSA’s defensive line will be able to crash in and make some noise when South Alabama attempts to pass after watching North Carolina St. bull rush their way into USA’s QB C.J. Bennett’s face at will .
Cause for optimism: USA is averaging two sacks allowed per game, with 1.5 sacks per game of their own. UTSA is allowing 1.8 on average and getting to the quarterback 2.8 times per game.
On the defensive side of the line South Alabama features a lot of speed and shiftiness. The guy that caught my eye was Romelle Jones, a 6’2, 275 lb. sophomore nose tackle. Jones has great feet and does an absolutely terrific job of using his hands to generate separation from offensive lineman, thereby putting himself in good position to roam the back field. Romelle (3.5 TFL, 2 sacks) may be the best pure pass rusher UTSA has faced thus far into the season. He’s also a “leisure studies” major. Ahhh, the elusive major where porn counts as research! Flanking Jones in USA’s 3-4 base set are defensive ends Motavious Williams and Alex Page. Page and William are both undersized, coming in at 6’1, 235 lbs. and 6’2, 265 lbs., respectively. Andy Dalgleish and Randon Carnathan also see significant playing time on the line. While South Alabam’s line is small, they can cause some serious damage if you don’t latch on to them and keep your feet moving, as evidenced by their six sacks and 10 quarterback hurries on the season.
USA’s defense won’t just stay in a 3-4 look. In the couple of hours of film I watched on them, I noticed a traditional 4-3, a 4-2 nickel package, and a 4-1 dime set. Leading tackler is middle linebacker and Virginia Tech transfer Jake Johnson. Johnson is a high motor, lateral linebacker that manages to track down running backs twice as fast as himself. All roads lead through #42 if UTSA wants to get anything going on offense.
One flaw that stuck out to me while watching South Alabama’s game against North Carolina State was USA’s inability to cover the flats on wheel routes and screens; interestingly enough, this is an area that UTSA has struggled to exploit, as you probably realized after watching Tevin Williams drop two wide-open screen passes or CheRod Simpson forgetting to turn around and look for the ball after releasing for a pass against Sam Houston State.
Offensively, there’s no doubting that the Jaguars want to run the ball as much as possible, using a mixture of sweeps and tosses on the outside and a power game between the tackles. They’ll pull the ball back and throw up a play action pass from time to time, gaining an average of 189 yards through the air.
Caveat: starting quarterback C.J. Bennet (RS Freshman) has eight interceptions on the year in contrast to only three touchdowns.
A bit of a far cry from what we’re watching Robert Griffin III do up at Baylor this year, to say the least. In fact, I can’t help but feel the quarterback position is an area of major concern for the Jaguars. Bennet goes on tears where he’ll fire off multiple pin-point passes, then systematically throw up a lame duck into coverage. If UTSA stuffs up the run and Bennet continues his two picks-per-game trend then the Roadrunners will be set up for a win.
Where South Alabama is going to rake their points in is on the back of tailback Kendall Houston. Houston is a stud back that tends to require a hard lick or multiple defenders to bring him down. While Houston is not crazy fast and isn’t going to generate his own touchdown runs, he does a fantastic job of following blocks after they have developed, displaying a sense of maturity much higher than what one would expect from a redshirt freshman. If you give Houston a decent gap at the line of scrimmage then you’re practically guaranteed a minimum of five yards.
Splitting carries with Kendall is Demetre Baker, another redshirt freshman that transferred from Georgia this spring. Baker is another great running back that is a bit more of a slasher than Houston. Baker has good closing speed and a long stride that makes him tough to arm tackle.
All in all, South Alabama is eerily similar to UTSA– A scrappy, young team with plenty of room to grow into a good FBS team in a few years. Taking UTSA’s struggling offense into account, this game is as close to a toss-up as could be in my book, but I’ll give the Roadrunners the edge thanks to home field advantage. Final score: 24-21 UTSA.
Oddities: Earon Holmes has been nominated UTSA’s starting wide receiver after his return to the team from shoulder injury last week.
A UTSA alumnus that has been cast away to Austin, Jared enjoys live music and a craft beer. He thinks four verts is the best play in football but loves a QB sneak on fourth and inches. Twitter