MOBILE, Ala. — Nothing much came easy for Georgia Southern when they took on South Alabama at Ladd-Peebles Stadium Saturday night.
Then again, any conference win on the road leave little to complain about.
The Eagles turned the ball over once via fumble, twice when stopped on fourth down and also failed to score from the 5 at the end of the first half, but still walked away with a convincing 24-9 victory over the Jaguars.
“I’m proud of the effort that we’re getting,” GS coach Tyson Summers said. “There are things in all three areas that we really need to work on, but I thought our defense did a great job, the offense made some big plays and we’re happy to get this win.”
Favian Upshaw got the job done for Georgia Southern (2-0, 1-0 Sun Belt) with both his arm and his legs. The senior rushed for 108 yards and threw for another 127, completing six of his nine attempts.
Kevin Ellison ran for 90 while running back trio of Matt Breida, Wesley Fields and L.A. Ramsby combined for another 112 on the ground.
The Georgia Southern defense continued its dominance this season, keeping its opponent out of the end zone for the second consecutive game.
The Jaguars (1-1, 0-1) couldn’t get their passing game on track as quarterback Dallas Davis was limited to just 21-of-43 through the air, including tossing the game-ending interception in the Eagles’ end zone on his final throw of the night.
South Alabama struck first after taking the opening kick. Showcasing the steady passing attack that spurred on the Jags’ comeback victory last week, Davis converted a 3rd-and-10 with a 37-yard connection to Kevin Kutchera. The Georgia Southern defensed tightened from there and Gavin Patterson hit a 40-yard field goal to start the scoring.
Georgia Southern answered right back while showing that last week’s improved passing was no fluke. Upshaw scrambled out of the pocket on 3rd-and-12, bought himself nearly five seconds to look downfield and found Wesley Fields for a 24-yard gain. Three consecutive runs couldn’t move the chains after that and Younghoe Koo tied the game at 3-3 with a 28-yard field goal.
The Eagles finished what they started on their second drive, but also lost a quarterback - temporarily - along the way.
Kevin Ellison hit Montay Crockett for a 10-yard gain and found running room for an 11-yard gain of his own, but appeared to injure his left arm on the play.
“It was just dinged up a little bit,” Ellison said. “I knew Favian would pick us up.”
With Upshaw in to replace Ellison, the Eagles drove deep into the South Alabama red zone. Georgia Southern caught a fortunate break when Fields fumbled on the 1 and right tackle Max Magana recovered. On the next snap, L.A. Ramsby plunged in for a 10-3 Eagle advantage.
Georgia Southern missed a pair of opportunities to seize momentum in the second quarter.
The Eagles began the second period of play on their own 1 yard line and quickly drove out of the shadow of their own goal line. A personal foul penalty on USA moved the ball into Jaguar territory and Fields followed with an 11-yard dash. The Eagles faced 3rd-and-1 from the USA 26, but an illegal procedure penalty backed things up five yards and two failed plays turned the ball over on downs.
The end of the half stung even more.
After Patterson split the uprights from 23 yards out to make it 10-6, the Eagles had 1:11 left to move the ball.
Upshaw rushed three times for 35 yards and hit a diving B.J. Johnson at the Jaguar 5 yardline. But with just 10 seconds remaining and the clock ticking, Upshaw couldn’t find room on an option run and the clock expired when Georgia Southern couldn’t call its final timeout in time.
“We need to do better in that situation,” Summers said. “I’ve got to do a better job of getting out of the coach’s box to call a timeout and we need to do a better job of knowing the situation and maybe getting the ball out to stop the clock.
“In the locker room at halftime, guys were acting like we were losing. I told them we just had to clean things up. I thought our first drive in the second half was huge to get us going the rest of the night.”
Ellison returned to the field to start the third quarter and drove the offense into USA territory before leaving the action once again after taking a hard hit on an option pitch. Just as he had done earlier, Upshaw finished off the drive Ellison started with an Eagle touchdown that was capped by a 5-yard run from Fields to make it 17-6.
The Georgia Southern defense forced a turnover on downs on the ensuing USA possession and - when Upshaw was sacked and fumbled on the next GS offensive series to set up the Jags on the Eagle 27 - the defense once again held for all four downs.
“I’ll have to watch the tape to see exactly how we looked,” Summers said. “I thought each part of the defense helped out the others. The D-line helped out the secondary by getting a good rush and - when we knew we had to be in coverage at the end - our secondary stepped up and made plays.”
As the third quarter turned into the fourth, Ellison was finally able to finish off a drive - and he did it with style.
On 2nd-and-12, Ellison sprinted left on an option run and picked up a wall of blockers. He went untouched until he got to the 5 and carried a Jaguar defender into the end zone for a 27-yard touchdown.
“I didn’t know how much room I had,” Ellison said. “Matt (Breida) was yelling at me to pitch it, but I wasn’t sure of where he was. When I turned up, everything opened up.”
The Jaguars managed to dent the scoreboard once more on the night as Patterson connected from 32 yards out midway through the fourth quarter.
South Alabama turned the ball over on downs for the third time on its next possession and — after reaching the Georgia Southern 5 with less than 30 seconds to play — Jessie Liptrot put an exclamtion point on the defensive performance by intercepting Davis.
Georgia Southern returns to the friendly confines of Paulson Stadium next week, remaining in Sun Belt play as the Eagles host UL Monroe. Georgia Southern will hope to make the most of their time spent at home as - following the ULM tilt — the Eagles will play their following four games on the road.
Mike Anthony may be reached at (912) 489-9408.