By: Michael Hanich | Sports Editor
As summer rolls along, the potential of a full college football season becomes more likely to play but not for certain. The South Alabama Jaguars are looking to rebound their worst season in program history after going 2-10 (1-7 in Sun Belt Conference). There will be a ton of pressure on the Jaguars with Steve Campbell entering into his third season as head coach. There is a potential bright side of the Jaguars getting better as a program through experience and recruiting especially on the offensive side of the ball. The Jaguars finished with the 109th best-recruiting class in the 2020 recruiting season, which is the seventh-best in the Sun Belt Conference. Overall, the Jaguars return eight offensive starters. South Alabama only acquired some significant junior college transfers that will create an impact immediately. There will be some clear starters at each position as well as some significant position battles.
Here are the current state of the Jaguars’ offensive position groups going into the 2020 college football season.
Throughout the season, the Jaguars struggled to find some consistency with Cephus Johnson as the starting quarterback. The Jaguars changed their starting quarterback from Johnson to redshirt freshman quarterback Desmond Trotter. South Alabama’s offense finished the season averaging 18.4 points per game but when Trotter took over as the starting quarterback with four games left, the Jags averaged 26 points per game. Trotter was more consistent throwing the ball in medium-range routes and led the Jags to more efficient drives. The Jaguars are looking to find the best playmaker at every position. Trotter will be entering the 2020 season as a redshirt sophomore and will once again face sophomore Tanner McGee as full-time starting quarterback. The competition might come down to Trotter and Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College transfer in pro-style quarterback Chance Lovertich. He is a three-star quarterback who threw for 2,794 yards and 24 touchdowns in 12 games played last season.
The loss of their star running back in Tra Minter will be significant for the Jaguars to deal with for the 2020 season. The Jaguars were ranked 54th in the nation in rushing yards per game (171.4) last season. Throughout the 2020 recruiting process, the Jaguars didn’t focus on looking for a young running back and start immediately. Last season, South Alabama played multiple freshmen backs in relief of Minter. Last season, Carlos Davis rushed for 269 yards and two touchdowns on 61 carries. Davis was third on the team for rushing yards accounted for behind Minter and Cephus Johnson. Jared Wilson is another freshman that found time to play in the loaded Jaguars backfield this past season. Last season, Wilson rushed for 176 yards and a touchdown on 49 carries. Davis and Wilson will be the first two options for potential long runs. Their other sophomore freshman back in John Tank Miller will be their big bruising short-yardage back.
All three starters returning
Of all the position groups that the Jaguars feel comfortable on the offensive side of the ball, the wide receivers are bound for a breakout season. South Alabama returns five of their leading receivers from last season. Kawaan Baker will be entering into his senior season after accounting for 35 receptions for 574 yards and three touchdowns. Junior wide receiver Jalen Tolbert will be at the main outside receiver position after catching 27 receptions for 521 yards and six touchdowns. In the final game of the 2019 season at home against Arkansas State, he caught five receptions for 144 yards and four touchdowns. Redshirt junior Davyn Flenord is projected to be the starting receiver at the opposite end of the field. Flenord and Jalen Wayne will likely split time if Wayne gets more room to develop. Junior slot receiver Cade Sutherland will backup Baker and find his way to the as a multi-purposeful receiver. The Jaguars are expecting sophomore wideout Devin Voisin to break out this season as well.
After the passing offense was underutilized due to an inefficient RPO (run-pass-option) offense, the Jags’ two leading tight ends in Zac Crosby and Khameron Taylor decided to put their names in the NCAA Transfer Portal. With both players still in the NCAA Transfer Portal, the Jaguars do not have an accreditable amount of experience left in their returning tight ends. Between sophomore Brandon Crum and senior Nick Thompson, both players for seven receptions for 82 yards. Crum is a more established blocker as well as play as a prototypical fullback. Nick Thompson is a playmaker that can run efficient routes from the line of scrimmage and spread out in formations. Look for South Alabama to try and utilize both tight ends in different running and passing schemes. How the Jags will utilize their tight ends also depends on if Crosby and Taylor go through with their transfer.
Both starters returning
The offensive line for the South Alabama Jaguars is also to be one of the strongest units on the offensive side of the ball. Senior Jacob Shoemaker returns as the Jaguars’ starting left tackle after starting all 12 games this past season. Shoemaker was one of the most consistent pass protectors for the Jaguars in the 2019 season. Josh McCulloch started six games at right tackle for the Jaguars last season taking over a struggling senior tackle Troy Thingstad. His huge size and frame at 6-3; 355 pounds may be best suited to play his natural guard position like he was in high school. Former Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College Transfer in tackle Hayden Burton comes in as a potential starter at the right tackle position. Burton is a solid pass protector with plenty of experience and size at 6-5; 308 pounds. This may be a potential battle between McColloch, Burton, and junior Conner Estes, who started the last game for South at right tackle against Arkansas State.
Guards and Center
Two starters returning
There is not much concern for two of the positions in the interior offensive line. The Jaguars return senior center Brian Ankerson and junior left guard Hadon Merchant. Both Ankerson and Merchant have spent the previous two starting all 12 games in each season at center and left guard, respectively. They are two of the most experienced and established run blockers back for the Jaguars. The only position that the Jaguars will need to replace is their right guard. Roy Albritton has been a long-time contributor in the run stopper for the Jags but has graduated. The right guard is a position where McCulloch can potentially start after moving from the offensive tackle position. Redshirt sophomore Trey Simpson may find his way to the starting right guard position after backing up Albritton throughout the entire 2020 season. Early enrolled tackle Andrew McMillian may play inside if he excelled in the spring portion and potential summer workouts.
Final analysis of Jaguars’ offense
Offensive coordinator Kenny Edenfield will be entering into his third season with the South Alabama Jaguars with coach Campbell. This past season, the Jaguars struggled to find some consistency against opposing defenses. They were among the worst offenses in college football until they made the change at quarterback to Desmond Trotter with a quarter of the season left. The Jaguars finished the season as the 121st ranked offense (out of 130 FBS teams) by averaging 18.4 points per game. They also finished 114th in total offense (330.3 total yards accounted for per game) and 111th in first downs per game (18). Throughout the season, the Jaguars were unable to capitalize on key plays by extending drives and finding their way into the red zone for potential scoring situations. The Jaguars only converted 30.2% on third downs with 12 third downs out of 28 attempts.
This 2020 season, the Jaguars feel more comfortable on offense with more experienced players at offensive line and wide receivers. They also feel comfortable with Desmond Trotter as the starting quarterback. They also know that if Chance Lovertich is more successful leading the offense, then the Jags need to make that move. The main importance of South’s offense to establish consistency with the quarterback’s decision-making in the RPO as well as the ability to convert the passes. Both quarterbacks feel they can accomplish this. Trotter has the experience and the experience with the offense but Lovertich has the high caliber passing abilities. Both running backs in Jared Wilson and Carlos Davis have what it takes to pick up the high velocity running attack that was left by Tra Minter. Expect some first-team All-Sun Belt Conference attention on Kawaan Baker and Jalen Tolbert, no matter who is the starting quarterback. It will be their leadership and the experienced offensive line that will determine how well the offense for the Jaguars goes.