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New Jaguars no mystery to Skyhawks

New Jaguars no mystery to Skyhawks

Posted: Friday, October 14, 2011 12:02 pm

By KEVIN WEAKS
Press Sports
For anyone not familiar with South Alabama, Jason Simpson has this message.
“Be glad they’re not in the OVC.”
The Jaguars, in just their third season of football after two years of playing what would amount to a junior varsity schedule, are loaded with talent and fully prepared to make the transition to the Football Bowl Subdivision of college football.
“I promise you every coach in the OVC is glad they’re not in our league,” Simpson said. “They’re getting ready to make the jump to Division 1 and the Sun Belt Conference next year. They’ll represent themselves very well. They have two losses, and you turn on the tapes and see they had chances in both.”
Head coach Joey Jones played at Alabama and was brought in to build the USA program from scratch. The timeline has included a seven-game schedule two years ago and a full slate last season with the Jags playing teams at all levels while building up a talent base through high school recruiting and signing transfers.
This season is the first of two NCAA transitional seasons before becoming a full Sun Belt member.
“I’m very concerned,” Simpson said. “They have two losses in two years. The talent level is very high. But, we knew what we were getting into when signed the contract.”
The Jaguars are 3-2 on the season, having defeated West Alabama (20-10), Lamar (30-8) and Texas-San Antonio (30-27) in overtime and losing to North Carolina State (35-13) and Kent State (33-25).
While those scores might not mean much to people unfamiliar with the teams on the Jaguars’ schedule, Simpson said the proof of South Alabama’s skill level is seen inside the numbers.
“It’s a pretty physical team,” Simpson said. “The unit leading them is defense. That’s the strength of their team. I’m watching the NC State tape, and they’re putting just six in the box stopping run and playing two-man to stop the pass. Anytime you can do that at any level, that’s pretty impressive.”
The Jags are giving up 22.6 points and 317.6 yards a game, allowing 142 rushing and 175.6 passing. Jake Johnson is leading the defense with 51 tackles, including six for a loss.
“We need to be balanced as usual,” Simpson said. “We have to go run, play-action and get the ball to Jason McNalr and Kenny Jones.”
The USA offense has some talented players as well in putting up 23.6 points and 343.2 yards per game. Kendall Houston has rushed for 333 yards and four touchdowns on 72 carries, while Demetre Baker has put up 254 yards and six scores on 48 carries. C.J. Bennett is 63-of-120 for 934 yards passing with three TDs and nine interceptions. USA has five receivers with at least 100 yards, led by Bryant Lavender with 16 catches for 255 yards. Jereme Jones has two of the TD catches.
As an underdog and a road team, Simpson hopes his troops will see the game as opportunity to relax and go for broke.
“We’re out of conference, so it’s free week,” Simpson said. “By that, I mean there’s pressure to win every week. This is a game that you need, if you don’t win your conference, to get to that seventh win for an at-large playoff bid. So, that pressure is still on the table. But, you can turn it loose. We’re on the road, and we’re going to be the underdog, So that’s OK. We need to take advantage of that role.”
Hitting the road will be a little new to a Skyhawk team that’s spent four straight games at Graham Stadium. That, Simpson said, forces some changes in preparation.
“It’s been a month since we’ve been on the road,” Simpson pointed out. “It’s about an 81⁄2, nine-hour drive, so that’s about four movies and that’s how we’ll approach it. I pick out the movies on my bus, so I look forward to it. And, it’s a TV game. We’re on CSS. That’s exposure for our university and program. We want to play well for recruits who’ll be watching. But, we do lose a day of preparation because we’ll be on the bus at 8 a.m. Friday.”
While the Skyhawks will take a 3-2 record to Mobile, it is hard for many within the program not to think in terms of what might have been. UTM’s two losses are by a total of four points, both games lost in the final minutes.
“It’s frustrating to see how close we are to being undefeated, but it’s good to see we have the talent level to be there,” Simpson said. “You only get one shot at each Saturday.
“We let the (Tennessee) Tech game get away. We could be sitting at 4-0 at home and 3-1 in the conference, but we’re not. We have four OVC games left, so our approach is to win out and make that last weekend interesting.” Published in The WCP 10.13.11

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