South Alabama Jaguars 2016 Preview and Prediction
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#115 South Alabama Jaguars
Sun Belt PREDICTION
HEAD COACH: Joey Jones, 42-35 (7 years) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Bryant Vincent | DEF. COORDINATOR: Kane Wommack
Last season, South Alabama came up just short of a second straight bowl appearance. The Jaguars hope to return to the postseason in 2016 but to get there an inexperienced offense must gel quickly while the defense must adjust to a new coordinator and personnel changes.
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Previewing South Alabama’s Offense for 2016
South Alabama coach Joey Jones must level out some potential offensive imbalance. His ground game is proven, but the passing attack is untested. And one side of his offensive line is strong, but the other carries question marks. Getting consistent quarterback play would solve a lot of issues. Sophomore Dallas Davis should enter the season with the starting job, but he attempted only 23 passes for 108 yards in a backup role last season. Marshall transfer Cole Garvin and UAB transfer Evan Orth round out the three-man competition. Davis’ running ability helps him earn the upper hand, but he must make good decisions to keep the Jaguars offense on the field.
Running backs Xavier Johnson and Tyreis Thomas return after rushing for more than 1,500 yards combined last season. Johnson averaged 124 yards in wins and only 48 yards in losses. Gerald Everett is perhaps the best tight end in the Sun Belt. USA suffered a blow in April when All-Sun Belt center Joseph Scelfo announced he was playing his final season at NC State as a graduate transfer.
The Jaguars need to improve their production after ranking 10th in the Sun Belt in scoring (25.0 ppg), but they first need to get better at sustaining drives and limiting turnovers.
Previewing South Alabama’s Defense for 2016
New defensive coordinator Kane Wommack, from Eastern Illinois, will keep USA’s 4-2-5 scheme intact, but he’s shaken up some of the personnel. All-conference selection Roman Buchanan (67 tackles, two INTs) has moved from safety to the Stinger position, or weak-side linebacker, to take advantage of his physical style and knowledge of the defense. Kalen Jackson (72 tackles) has moved from linebacker to the secondary to utilize his athleticism. And Jeremy Reaves (96 tackles), another all-league performer, slides from nickel back to cornerback.
Wommack wants more energy out of the defense, dialing up pressure with speed and flexibility and hopefully forcing more negative plays. Last season, USA ranked second in the Sun Belt in pass defense, but its pass rush was nearly nonexistent. The Jags hope to bolster that area with the return of end Jimmie Gipson, who missed the 2015 season with a torn Achilles. Gipson — like Scelfo — opted to transfer and play his final season elsewhere in the spring but decided to return to the team in June.
USA has talent in the linebacking corps, and the secondary should be solid again. But the progress of an underwhelming front will determine the success of the defense. Look for nose tackle Tre Alford to lead the charge if the line makes big strides.
Previewing South Alabama’s Specialists for 2016
In a perfect world, accomplished placekicker Aleem Sunanon will have only one job. Last season, he made 16-of-19 field goals, including 6-of-7 beyond 40 yards, but he also had some of the punting duties. Corliss Waitman has the biggest leg, but he’s still trying to return from a 2015 season-ending injury. Brandon McKee is another option at punter. The return jobs could be in flux, especially since USA would like Johnson to conserve his energy for offense. Josh Magee, a blazing fast wide receiver, might factor in before season’s end.
The schedule is front-loaded with Mississippi State and strong Sun Belt squad Georgia Southern in the first two games. If USA can win potential toss-up games at Louisiana-Lafayette and at home against San Diego State, then bowl eligibility could be attainable with more winnable Sun Belt games in the back half. But USA has a slim margin for error in order to improve on last year’s 5–7 mark and reach bowl contention. The Jaguars must cut down their turnovers with an inexperienced quarterback, run the ball with more consistency and win a couple more Sun Belt games than a year ago to reach the postseason.