First year South Alabama Coach Steve Campbell knows a thing or two about winning.
In 19 years as a head coach Campbell has never had a team finish under .500. He’s won two national championships: he coached Delta State to the Division II title in 2000 and Mississippi Gulf Coast CC to the junior college championship in 2007.
Campbell also won a national title as a player. He, along with Jaguars offensive coordinator Kenny Edenfield and defensive coordinator Greg Stewart, played on Troy’s 1987 Division II national champions.
The last four years he went 33-15 at Central Arkansas and got that school into the FCS playoffs twice advancing to the second round in 2016 and 2017.
It was those credentials that got Campbell the USA job when Joey Jones—at the time the only coach in the school’s history--was fired two days after losing 52-0 to a then winless Georgia Southern team last year at Paulson Stadium.
That game marks the only time a South Alabama football team has ever been shutout and it was a stunning loss for a team looking to become bowl eligible after posting wins over Troy and Arkansas State.
In a bit of a scheduling quirk the Jaguars (1-4, 1-1) will be looking to gain a measure of revenge and their first win ever over the Eagles at 3:30 p.m. Saturday at Paulson Stadium in a Sun Belt Conference game. It will be Homecoming for Georgia Southern (3-1, 1-0).
South Alabama is coming off a 52-7 loss at Appalachian State, a game in which the Mountaineers scored the final 45 points.
Despite the lop-sided defeat, coming on the heels of a 52-35 loss to Memphis, Campbell is far from discouraged.
“We’ve still got a lot to play for,” Campbell said. “We’re in first place in our (West) division in the Sun Belt and our goal is to play in the conference championship game.”
This year for the first time since Georgia Southern joined the Sun Belt there will be a conference championship game and the Eagles gave the Jaguars a boost last week when they upset Arkansas State, 28-21.
“We’re the only team in our division with a win,” Campbell said. “Appalachian State is a really good team. We did not play well, and we had a hard time stopping the bleeding.”
The other teams in the West are Arkansas State (3-2, 0-1), Texas State (1-3, 0-1), Louisiana Lafayette (1-3, 0-1) and Louisiana Monroe (2-3, 0-2).
The power is in the East with Appalachian State (3-1, 1-0) and Troy (4-1, 2-0) now being joined by the rejuvenated Eagles as teams to beat. Georgia State (2-3, 1-0) and Coastal Carolina (3-2, 0-1) round out the division.
Quarterback Evan Orth and wide receiver Jamarius Way are the Jags primary offensive threats as the running game has struggled.
Orth has thrown for 1,014 yards and is fourth in the conference at 202.8 yards per game while Way is the SBC’s top receiver with 35 catches for 500 yards.
Running back Kawaan Baker has scored eight touchdowns and has 151 yards rushing on 29 attempts. Tra Minter leads the team in rushing with 164 yards on 56 carries.
The Jaguars rank 117th nationally in total defense (501.8 yards per game), 120th in rushing defense (234.4) and 126th in scoring defense (44 points per game).
Based on those numbers it should be a field day for the Eagles whose 270 yards per game rushing is sixth nationally.
South Alabama tight end Collier Smith, however, is not conceding anything to Georgia Southern.
“It’s hard to go into this week and not remember what happened in Statesboro last year,” Smith said in a news conference earlier this week. “I don’t think they (had) won a game before they played us.
“We had just beat Ark State and Troy then we go into Statesboro thinking we’re going to have a pretty good chance of beating them and they destroy us,” Smith said. “Now it’s flipped.
“They just beat Ark State and we’re going to go right the wrong that happened to us last year.