Sun Belt teams looking to snap losing streaks get together in Mobile on Saturday
The South Alabama Jaguars opened the 2020 college football season with a 32-21 upset win over Southern Miss in the first FBS game of the year. However, a pair of losses and the postponement of the previously scheduled Sun Belt opener with Troy means it has been nearly six weeks since the Jaguars earned a victory. Saturday's game against the Texas State Bobcats, which comes in 1-4 overall and 1-1 in conference play after last week's 37-17 loss to Troy, is an opportunity to get back into the win column.
Texas State at South Alabama
Kickoff: Saturday, Oct. 17, at 12 p.m. ET
Spread: South Alabama -2.5
When Texas State Has the Ball
Texas State was forced to rotate quarterbacks early in the season due to COVID protocols. Brady McBride won the job in fall camp over incumbent Tyler Vitt and started the opener against SMU. However, McBride was unavailable for the next two games. He returned to action against Boston College — and nearly led the Bobcats to an upset win — but struggled last week against the Trojans. Overall, McBride has completed 57.3 percent of his passes for 549 yards and five touchdowns with two interceptions. Though capable of moving the ball on the ground, he has gained just 11 rushing yards on 32 attempts.
Vitt stepped in with a huge game against UTSA in a 51-48 loss and then led Texas State to its only victory, 38-17 over ULM. He has completed 40-of-64 passes for 602 yards, six touchdowns, and a pair of interceptions while gaining 89 rushing yards and one touchdown on 24 carries. Though Vitt saw only limited action against Troy, both he and McBride could take snaps against South Alabama.
Jeremiah Haydel has emerged as the favorite receiver for both quarterbacks. Haydel leads the team with 18 receptions and 241 yards and ranks second to big-play wideout Marcell Barbee (11 receptions, 173 yards, 4 touchdowns) with three touchdowns. Jah'Marae Sheread (15 receptions, 155 yards, 1 touchdown), Chandler Speights (8 receptions, 136 yards, 1 touchdown), and Trevis Graham Jr. (11 receptions, 120 yards), among others, offer plenty of options in the passing game.
Calvin Hill leads the Bobcats with 308 rushing yards and three touchdowns, but Brock Sturges (251 rushing yards, 2 touchdowns) is technically the starter. The pair should continue to split carries. Also, watch out for Oklahoma State transfer Jahmyl Jeter (80 rushing yards, 1 touchdown), who could play a bigger role moving forward.
When South Alabama Has the Ball
South Alabama has also been forced to play two quarterbacks, and like Texas State, is comfortable with either signal-caller. Desmond Trotter won the starting job in fall camp and started the first two games, completing 57.1 percent of his passes for 373 yards and two touchdowns with two interceptions. Trotter has averaged 10.7 yards per pass attempt, which would rank No. 5 on the FBS leaderboard if he had played enough to qualify, and he has also gained 45 yards on the ground on 13 carries. However, a shoulder injury opened the door for junior college transfer Chance Lovertich. Though he struggled against UAB, Lovertich has posted solid stats across three appearances, having completed 55.7 percent of his passes for 479 yards, four touchdowns, and one interception, while averaging 7.9 yards per attempt.
If fully healthy, we should expect Trotter to regain his starting role, but head coach Steve Campbell has indicated he is comfortable playing both quarterbacks. The Jags receivers, featuring arguably the best trio in the Sun Belt, should provide plenty of options for either signal-caller to succeed. Jalen Tolbert ranks No. 12 nationally with 109.0 receiving yards per game, having hauled in 15 passes for 327 yards (an average of 21.8 yards per catch, which ranks 15th in FBS) and three touchdowns. Kawaan Baker leads the squad with 16 receptions and has gained 246 yards and scored twice. Jalen Wayne posted 101 receiving yards in the opener and has 11 catches for 176 yards and a touchdown across three contests.
Carlos Davis quickly emerged as the primary ball carrier, replacing record-setting Tra Minter. Davis has gained 272 rushing yards and scored once on 48 carries. Only Trotter has surpassed double-digit rushing attempts, though Terrion Avery (26 rushing yards, 1 touchdown) and AJ Phillips (20 rushing yards) could step in when necessary. South Alabama will also hand off to receivers. True freshman Caullin Lacy has gained 29 yards on seven carries (in addition to one catch for five yards), and though Baker has just one rushing attempt this season, he has 579 career rushing yards and has scored six times on the ground overall.
South Alabama and Texas State were a combined 5-19 overall and 3-13 in Sun Belt play last season, which included the hard-fought 30-28 Bobcats victory in San Marcos. And though the two have only a pair of wins between them in 2020, both have shown clear improvement. Both offenses have legitimate weapons and potentially future pros at receiver. And though both defenses rank among the worst in the conference statistically — Texas State ranks ninth in total defense (454.4 yards per game) and seventh in yards allowed per play (5.87) while the Jaguars rank eighth overall (437.3) and eighth on a per-play basis (6.28) — both units have promise. A win Saturday would establish either squad as a threat in the Sun Belt West. And though there's little to separate them, we give Texas State a slight edge.
Prediction: Texas State 30, South Alabama 27
(Kawaan Baker photo by Scott Donaldson/South Alabama Strategic Communications)