South Alabama didn’t wait a whole lot of time to get another program-defining win in its short football history. This one is much bigger than the last one.
Almost a month after eking out a win at Mississippi State for its first-ever win over an SEC team, the Jaguars fought and placed an even bigger win on their resume, beating No. 19 San Diego State 42-24 for their first-ever win over a ranked opponent. It was also the first time a Sun Belt Conference team beat a ranked opponent since Louisiana-Monroe beat No. 9 Arkansas in the first week of the 2012 season.
Cole Garvin didn’t play like a sophomore quarterback in his first collegiate game. The transfer from Marshall stepped in well for starter Dallas Davis, who was out with turf toe. Garvin threw for 242 yards and three touchdowns. He also kept his cool under pressure from the SDSU defense. He was sacked three times in the game, but still ran for 14 yards.
Meanwhile, the USA defense did a remarkable job defending the Aztec offense. Running back Donnel Pumphrey, arguably one of the top backs in the country, had 151 yards for SDSU, but the rest of the offense was held in check. The Jag defense held SDSU to only 159 passing yards.
Let me be frank: This win came out of nowhere. After the win at Mississippi State, South Alabama saw its momentum vanish in a convincing loss at home to Georgia Southern, and its defense gave up too many big plays in a loss at Louisiana-Lafayette.
Then USA sleepwalked through a game against FCS foe Nicholls State, and almost suffered an embarrassing upset loss. The Jags had four interceptions that led to three Colonel touchdowns and had to stop Nicholls on a two-point conversion in overtime to hold on for the 41-40 win.
That game had many people thinking that the MSU win was just a fluke, and that South Alabama was just a lucky team in the first game of the year.
Saturday’s win over SDSU says that USA’s wins are much more than luck.
There is talent on this Jaguar team, leading with senior tight end Gerald Wallace. His tall frame and deceptive speed make him a dangerous receiver and most likely the first Sun Belt player that will be taken in next year’s NFL Draft. Wallace caught a 79-yard touchdown pass late in the game against San Diego State.
Cornerback Jeremy Reaves and safety Devon Earl played strongly, keeping the SDSU offense in check. Reaves led the Jags with seven tackles, while Earl recovered a fumble and returned it 80 yards for the score to put the game away.
While this win does wonders for team confidence, the fact remains that South Alabama is still 0-2 in Sun Belt play. The Jags have an extra week to celebrate this win, but they will have to keep it in perspective. Tough tests loom at defending SBC champion Arkansas State and at home against in-state rival Troy.
South Alabama has two signature wins any team would love to have on its resume this season. The question is what the team does with it this year. Will the wins give the program confidence that it can contend with any team on its schedule, or will they feed a sense of invincibility, which leads to a lack of urgency and bad losses which squander prosperity?
The Jags have a big opportunity to use these wins for an attractive bowl and for recruiting… but only if they don’t suffer a letdown the rest of the season