Sun Belt

South Alabama Jaguars Football Preview 2016

South Alabama football preview for 2016, including keys to success for the Jaguars, best players and season prediction.

2016 South Alabama Preview: Top Jaguar Players

2015 was supposed to be a massive rebuilding season, and it still wasn’t all that bad – up until the end.

The Jaguars needed a ton of work and a ton of personnel changes, but they still shocked future Mountain West champ San Diego State on the road on the way to a 5-4 start and just two victories away from going to a second straight bowl appearance.

Three straight losses later, it was a losing season, changing the narrative for this year.

The team was supposed to get better as last year went on, and it didn’t. This time around, the Jaguars need a far more efficient passing attack, the defense has to come up with a few stops, and there have to be more big plays on both sides of the ball.

If last year was supposed to be a reboot, this year is supposed to be the next step back into the Sun Belt fight even with six starters gone off the offense. Head coach Joey Jones hasn’t had too long to work with a program that’s still just going into its fifth year in FBS life, but the depth and the young prospects are starting to rise into the mix.

Seven starters are back on a defense that needs a better identity and needs to find something it can do well at a relatively high level. Can the youth of last year on the interior of the line pay off this year? Can the secondary pick off more passes after coming up with just four in the final seven games? Can the pass rush generate more than just 11 sacks? The D can’t be any worse – and it won’t be.

It’s up to Jones to get USA out of the middle of the pack, but it’s going to be a fight with a top-heavy Sun Belt this season. It’s been good to get the program to this point, but get just a few wins better, and all of a sudden the needle will be pointing way up.

What You Need To Know About The South Alabama Offense

The offense that never quite got the passing game going and died at times down the stretch at least comes back with big upside at the skill spots. Scoring was a big issue – going 1-7 when coming up with fewer than 32 points – but there’s hope with the expected emergence of Dallas Davis among the quarterback options and with plenty of good receivers to work with. The running backs are deep and experienced, but the line needs new options on the right side, especially after losing starting tackle Chris May.

Biggest Key To The South Alabama Offense
Can there be more from the passing game? The USA attack didn’t light it up even with Brandon Bridge at quarterback two years ago, and it got worse last year even with UAB transfer Cody Clements providing a little bit of experience. There’s a bit of a quarterback battle, but Dallas Davis is a good-looking option who should provide a little bit of a spark for Jaguar offense that died in the second half of the year. USA it the 200-yard mark just once over the last six games, losing four of them.

What You Need To Know About The South Alabama Defense

Run defense bad, pass defense good. Teams spent so much time grinding it out on the Jaguars that there wasn’t too much of a need to bomb away, but now the young defensive interior has a little experience to build off of. The secondary that had so many positives throughout last season gets back options at corner – and talent – and should be stronger with a little more help from the pass rush. It’s an undersized defensive front six/seven overall, and now it has to find ways to be stingier against the run.

Biggest Key To The South Alabama Defense
Can the line generate a pass rush? Considering the defensive front is made up of linebacker-sized linemen, and the linebackers are built like beefed up safeties, it has to use the speed and athleticism more to be difference-makers behind the line. The Jaguars came up with just 11 sacks last season with seven of them coming in three games – that means a mere four came in the other nine. That’s not good.

South Alabama Will Be Far Better If …

The defense can come up with a few more third down stops. It all ties in together. The run D got gouged early, there was no pass rush on passing downs, and offenses had way too many easy opportunities to keep the chains moving. The Jaguars allowed teams to convert 44% of their third down tries. They defense has to make it easier on itself.

Best South Alabama Offensive Player

TE Gerald Everett, Sr. – Built more like a big wide receiver than a true tight end, Everett led the team with 41 catches for 575 yards and eight touchdowns. A decent enough deep threat to stretch the field, he’ll combine with Josh Magee to give USA a dangerous pair of targets to crank up the big plays.

Best South Alabama Defensive Player

CB Jeremy Reaves, Jr. – Is he going to play corner or safety? Does it matter? He worked mostly at the Star position last season, coming up with 96 tackles with six broken up passes and two picks. With his speed and ball-hawking ability, he’s going to work on the boundary side as a tough corner who should keep on making things happen against the run. It’s going to be a veteran secondary, and Reaves will be the star.

Key Player To A Successful Season

NT Tre Alford, Jr. – The South Alabama run defense desperately needs size, and that’s where 335-pound freshman Roy Albritton comes in. He’s going to be the key backup on the nose, but he’s just getting started. At 5-10 and 280 pounds, Alford passes for the bulk on the inside, and he needs to come up with a huge – literally – junior season.

The South Alabama Season Will Be A Success If …

It gets to six games and becomes bowl eligible. The Jaguars had their chances to get to six and get the call to the NOVA Home Loans Arizona Bowl, but they couldn’t close. This year’s team is better and deeper, and that it needs to translate into an extra win. It’s going to take at least one big upset along the way, but again, after going 5-7, they have to get over the hump.

Key Game

Sept. 10 vs Georgia Southern. Unless there’s a miracle, USA will start the season off with a loss to Mississippi State, and it’ll lose at home to San Diego State on October 1st. It might be asking a lot to beat Louisiana-Lafayette and Arkansas State on the road, too, but a split would be fantastic. Assume a win over Nicholls State, so to avoid a likely disastrous 1-5 start, there has to be a huge upset win in the Sun Belt opener against Georgia Southern. The Eagles are loaded, but the Jaguars get the game at home. They need this, or there will likely be a huge hill to climb six weeks later over the second half of the year.

2015 South Alabama Fun Stats

– Second Quarter Scoring: Opponents 128 – South Alabama 58
– Sacks: Opponents 32 for 204 yards – South Alabama 11 for 85 yards
– Interception Return Average: Opponents 21.9 yards – South Alabama 2.1 yards