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South Alabama gets respect, but will be challenged this week

AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis
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If any team from last week has gotten a bigger boost in media attention and blogs than ever before, it’s South Alabama.

The Jaguars, in only their eighth season of playing football, recorded what has to be the biggest win in their short history. They rallied from a 17-0 halftime deficit to beat Mississippi State, 21-20, when the Bulldogs missed a chip-shot field goal off the upright in the final 10 seconds.

The celebration by USA head coach Joey Jones is still living in the Twittersphere.

While this win does add credibility to the Jags’ football program, they have to keep their emotions in check. They face a much tougher opponent in Georgia Southern this Saturday.

Hey, let’s give credit where credit is due. What South Alabama did last week was outstanding. Shut out at the half, the Jags finally got their offense going while their defense did what it had to do to keep a mediocre MSU offense in check, holding the Bulldogs to just a field goal in the third quarter.

The bulk of the credit for the comeback win goes to quarterback Dallas Davis, who also had a viral video moment in leapfrogging over a Bulldog defender.

Davis was 24-of-34 and threw for 285 yards and two touchdowns against Mississippi State, showing a level of poise many didn’t think the sophomore quarterback had. He made good reads and didn’t panic as he led the Jags back in the second half.

Also helping out was a strong running game led by senior Tyreis Thomas, who ran for 83 yards for a touchdown. Although Xavier Johnson is the starter and is a good back, Thomas should gain a larger workload this Saturday.

Also keep an eye out for senior tight end Gerald Wallace, who is, I think, the top NFL prospect in the Sun Belt Conference this year. His ability to find an open seam in the defense allows him to make a lot of plays, and his surprisingly quick feet make him a dangerous receiver.

South Alabama has to keep its Week 1 win in perspective. Mississippi State is in rebuilding mode after two strong seasons. The Bulldogs are not expected to be in the mix for the SEC West Division title this year. To say that the win justifies calling the Jaguars a good team is not 100-percent correct, but they will have more opportunities to prove themselves.

The first one is this Saturday in USA’s home opener.

Georgia Southern looked like the Sun Belt title contender that it is last week. The Eagles took it to Savannah State, 54-0, holding the Tigers to only 114 total yards.

Of course, beating a low-level FCS team is not that impressive, but don’t let that influence you to think Georgia Southern isn’t a great team. The quartet of quarterbacks Kevin Ellison and Favian Upshaw, along with running backs Matt Breida and L.A. Ramsby, leads an Eagle rushing attack that is hard for any defense to stop. Breida was (statistically) one of the leading running backs in the country in 2015, while Ellison and Upshaw both have great speed.

Upshaw also showed that Southern is improving in its passing game, going 7-of-10 for 115 yards and two touchdowns.

The scene in Mobile should be electric for USA’s home opener after its big win in Starkville. Once the game gets going, however, expect to see Georgia Southern’s option attack wear down South Alabama, which is vulnerable against the run due to a thin defensive line. Expect Breida and company to have a good night running the ball, and Southern to pound out a road win.

However, if Davis continues to show great leadership and if Everett makes big plays, South Alabama could come out of this game with a close win and a chance to put the Jags in the mix for the SBC crown.

South Alabama could not have opened its season any more theatrically or successfully. Will the Jaguars come up with a brilliant encore performance?

Get ready for FunBelt drama in early September.

South Alabama gets respect, but will be challenged this week

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