Last season was rough, but expected, for South Alabama.
Not only was new head coach Steve Campbell inheriting a 4-8 team from 2017, but the Jaguars were moving on from Joey Jones, who was the only coach the program had ever known since announcing the creation of a football team in 2007.
A 3-8 campaign last year was supposed to provide the foundation moving ahead and that looked to be the case when South Alabama played nationally ranked Nebraska tough on the road to begin the season. The Jags followed that up with a solid win over FCS Jackson State, but the wheels have come off over the last three weeks.
Memphis and UAB smashed the Jaguars by scores of 42-6 and 35-3, respectively. The South Alabama offense showed a bit more life last weekend, but UL Monroe was still able to churn out a decisive 30-17 win.
“We’re excited to be back at home, but we’re going up against a good team with on offense that presents problems,” Campbell said. “Preparation is going to be very important and that’s a challenge when you have a short week”
If the Jags are to get on track against Georgia Southern, they’ll likely look to star running back Tra Minter to be the spark. Minter does it all for the Jaguars as he leads the team with 438 rushing yards and ranks third with 146 receiving yards. He is also South Alabama’s top option for both punt and kickoff returns.
“He’s a ‘guy’,” GS coach Chad Lunsford said, using one of his favorite descriptions of impact players. “We need to have our eyes on him. He’s a player we definitely have to stop if we want to be successful.”
South Alabama will feature a dual quarterback system in Cephus Johnson and Tylan Morton, but it’s Johnson that has taken the majority of the snaps and that has accounted for nearly 80 percent of the total offense generated between the two.
Kawaan Baker is the Jaguars’ top threat through the air and is coming off of an All-Sun Belt performance in 2018. However, Georgia Southern would be glad to get the 2018 version of Baker that it experienced as the Eagle secondary held him to just three catches and didn’t allow most of his 79 yards until after the game was out of reach.
The Eagles have had more than their share of success against South Alabama over the last five years. However, Georgia Southern has spent just as much time looking inward as it has preparing for the challenge of stopping the Jags.
"Right now, there are a lot of things we need to clean up defensively," Lunsford said. "We need to do a better job of getting the plays in and getting set up correctly in our pre-snap. Another thing is that we need to eliminate our missed tackles."
The Jaguars are in the middle of transitioning from a defensive four-man front to a 3-4 base. That has brought about some successful rushing days for opponents — something the Eagles will be eager to test. The USA secondary remains the strength of the unit, but will have to play out of its element as Georgia Southern remains primarily a rushing team and continues to avoid turning the ball over through the air.