By: Santeria Evans | Sports Editor
Photo Source: Michael Dunn | Staff Photographer
The University of South Alabama defense surrendered less than 300 yards of offense while forcing four turnovers in a 31-7 season-opening non-conference football victory over Southern Mississippi at Hancock Whitney Stadium on Saturday.
This marks the first time the Jags have claimed their opening game of the season in consecutive years since beginning 1-0 each fall from 2014-16.
The Jaguars answered with a pair of touchdown passes from Senior Jake Bentley in a two-minute span in the opening minutes of the second period to take a 14-7 lead at the break.
Bentley stated, “We came out with a great plan. This is the best I have ever been prepared for a team, and that’s just so much of Coach [Major] Applewhite and how he has helped me through the preparation process.”
Junior Jalen Tolbert caught five passes for 168 yards while freshman Caullin Lacy also had five receptions for an additional 67 yards as Bentley completed 17-of-22 attempts for 269 yards and accounted for three scores — two passing and one on the ground — in his South debut.
Tolbert stated, “We had a good game plan coming in, we just had to execute. We started out kind of slow but we picked it up in the second and third quarters.”
Junior Keith Gallmon Jr. led all players with seven stops, senior Shawn Jennings contributed six tackles with the trio of senior Jamal Brooks, redshirt freshman Wy’Kevious Thomas and senior Tré Young finished with five apiece. Both senior Shawn Steele II and junior Davyn Flenord intercepted passes, and Thomas and senior Devin Rockette had fumble recoveries for the Jag defense.
Flenord’s interception return for a touchdown was the first for USA since Rockette ran back a pick 95 yards for a score in a victory over ULM on Oct. 24 a year ago.
Head Coach Wommack said, “When you think about a game like that, there are so many unknowns walking into the game in the first place. From a game-plan standpoint offensively, we kind of had to feel [Southern Miss] out and be a little bit more conservative to see what it was that they were going to do [defensively].”
This was the Jaguars first game under the direction of Kane Wommack, the third head coach in the program’s history. With the win, South swept the home-and-home series with the Golden Eagles.
Womack also stated, “I didn’t think this was a convincing win nor was it the standard of what we’re trying to accomplish here in this program. We play in the Sun Belt Conference and it’s a very good league. We’re going to see some very good teams moving forward. When you think about the urgency that we have to have as a program and where we need to go, we still have work to do.”
Up next, the Jaguars go on the road for the first time this fall to meet Bowling Green at 3 p.m. (CDT) on Saturday.