By: Michael Hanich | Sports Editor
It is a short around for the South Alabama Jaguars (3-2; 2-0 in Sun Belt play) as they travel to the Georgia Southern Eagles (3-2; 1-2 in Sun Belt play) this Thursday night. The Jaguars are coming off their most decisive win of the season with a 38-14 home victory over the Louisiana-Monroe Warhawks. Last season, the Jaguars lost to the Eagles at home with a 20-17 score. In the six meetings between the two teams, the Jaguars have never beaten the Eagles. The Jaguars are looking to change on Thursday night.
The Jaguars will have the difficult task of trying to stop the Eagles’ triple-option offense, where they rely on misdirection with multiple runners. Georgia Southern ranks 13th in the nation in rushing yards per game (248.6 yards), second in the Sun Belt Conference. For the Jaguars to suppress the Eagles offense, they must consistently beat out the offensive line and crash into the backfield. They will have to do this with a bigger defensive line like defensive tackle Gi’Narious Johnson and defensive end Jeremiah Littles. They will rely on key blitzes like senior outside linebacker Riley Cole and Shawn Jennings.
In five games, Cole has been the leader on the team in total tackles accounted (45), tackle for loss (four), and sacks (two). He is playing at an all-conference defensive player of the year level by making the plays behind the scrimmage line. Both Littles and Jennings have accounted for three tackles for loss so far this season. Weakside linebacker Nick Mobley and safeties Keith Gallmon and Tre Young will need to play close to the line of scrimmage and quickly close the running room just outside of the tackles to keep the Eagles from driving with the ball. The Jaguars are 43rd in the nation in rushing yards allowed per game (138.8 yards), which is third in the Sun Belt.
Offensively, the Jaguars have a big task ahead of them as they will face the 22nd ranked scoring defense (20.8 points allowed per game) in the Eagles. They will have to mix schemes to order to gain some momentum for long drives. South Alabama has been able to do this consistently as they rank 48th in the nation in total yards accounted for (253.3), which is third in the conference.
The Jaguars have mixed schemes all season long at quarterback as Desmond Trotter played the majority of reps while Chance Lovertich comes in for a fresh arm and perspective. The defense of the Eagles will not be fooled easily by the changing of quarterbacks. Trotter is the more dynamic dual-threat playmaker and has a stronger, more accurate arm. Lovertich is a consistent mid-range passer when the pocket is clean.
The Jaguars look to utilize more schemes that give wide receiver Jalen Tolbert more distinctive routes. Last week against the Warhawks, Tolbert was held to two receptions (on his six targets) for 68 yards. Although ULM double-covered Tolbert consistently, they allowed senior wide receiver Kawaan Baker to have an explosive performance of six receptions for 154 yards and three touchdowns.
It will be difficult for the Eagles to maintain consistent coverage on both star Jaguar receivers throughout the entire game as they rank 58th in the nation in passing yards allowed per game (232.2). The Jaguars offensive line will need to keep the pocket clean from an underwhelming pass rush Eagles that has accounted for only 15 tackles for loss and four sacks in five games.
The Jaguars are currently five-point underdogs to the Eagles. The game will kick off on ESPN tonight at 6:30 p.m. CST.