By: Michael Hanich | Sports Editor
This year has been difficult for everyone, especially in the world of sports, but there will be some definition of normal returning as college football for the South Alabama Jaguars starts back this Thursday. The Jaguars will be traveling to Hattiesburg, Mississippi to face the Southern Miss Golden Eagles in a pivotal non-conference matchup. The game will be televised on CBS Sports Network at 8 p.m. central.
This will be the first-ever meeting between the Jaguars and the Golden Eagles despite the schools being only 90 miles apart. The Jaguars are looking for a positive rebound after accounting for their worst record in their 11-years as a football program with a 2-10 overall record with one win in Sun Belt conference play.
There are more expectations for the Jaguars with Steve Campbell entering into his third season as head coach. The program wants to see significant production on the field especially with some of the teams in the Sun Belt looking to decline. They will have some momentum going into the season on both sides of the ball.
Offensively, the Jaguars will turn to redshirt sophomore Desmond Trotter as their starting quarterback. Trotter started the last four games of this past season over a struggling Cephus Johnson. After Trotter took over, the Jaguars averaged 26 points per game as opposed to 14.6 points per game. They also accounted for 409 total yards per game as opposed to 290 total yards. He beat transfer quarterback Chance Lovertich in an impressive quarterback battle during the spring, summer, and fall.
Trotter and the Jaguars’ experienced wide receivers, led by senior Kawaan Baker, will be key for the matchup against the secondary of the Golden Eagles. Last season, the defense for Southern Miss was ranked 48th in the nation in passing yards allowed per game (216.6). The Golden Eagles secondary often gave up big plays through the passing game. This is an area that the Jaguars could find success in.
The Jaguars will need to develop their run game early in this game especially with the Golden Eagles replacing three of their four starting defensive linemen from last year. Sophomore Carlos Davis steps in as the starting running back for the Jaguars this season. He will be helped with an efficient and experienced offensive especially from the interior. Senior center Brian Ankerson, a Rimmington Award watchlist player for the Nation’s best center, returns after starting the previous two seasons. Junior left guard Hadon Merchant has started 22 of the 23 games he has played the past two seasons. Senior right guard Jacob Shoemaker started all games for South Alabama last season.
The Jaguars will have a key goal to shut down the Golden Eagles senior quarterback Jack Abraham and his dynamic receiver corp. South Alabama looks to be more efficient in pass coverage as they ranked 82nd in the nation last season in passing yards allowed per game (236.7). They also allowed a completion percentage of 64.4% throughout the 2019 season. Junior cornerback Davyn Flenord has made a significant transition from wide receiver last season to one of the starting cornerbacks this season. Senior Tre Young and junior Keith Gallmon return as the starting safeties for South this season as they will play a huge part in the matchup against Southern Miss’ dynamic receivers.
Junior middle linebacker Nick Mobley and senior outside linebackers Riley Cole and Chris Henderson will need to be crucial as they help develop the new starting defensive line for South Alabama. They will need to be efficient either in coverage or quick to penetrate the backfield to cause chaos in the backfield.
The Jaguars are 14.5-point underdogs to the Golden Eagles. This huge point differential is due to the rough eight-game start that South Alabama had last year. The Golden Eagles are projected to finish second in the C-USA Western Division, just behind the UAB Blazers. South Alabama can make this game close but they will need to start driving the ball down the field early and create havoc in the Eagles’ offensive backfield.