Our series continues (here are recaps for Coastal Carolina, Georgia Southern, and Texas State) and next up are the Jags from South Alabama. After nine seasons and two bowl appearances, Joey Jones is out at South Alabama with a 52-50 overall record. Under the former Alabama wide receiver, this program never won more than five conference games in a season and after three straight losing seasons in the Sun Belt it was time to make a change.
We’ll recap another year of missed opportunities for this young program and what they have to look forward to now that Steve Campbell is the man in charge.
Entering the year, most felt Jones was sitting on a pretty warm seat as he only had one-year remaining on his contract and had to replace nearly all of the receiving production from 2016. However, the Jags are considered one of the most talented teams in the league on an annual basis and the coaches slotted them in fourth place. Meanwhile, our UDD panel had South Alabama in a three-way tie for sixth.
In training camp, South had some big questions to figure out. In addition to the gaping hole at wide receiver, the offense had to figure out who their starter was going to be as returning starter Dallas Davis was recovering from offseason shoulder surgery. On the other side, it appeared that the defense would be outstanding as Jeremy Reaves was one of the best defensive backs in college football and the front seven was littered with Power Five transfers. The goal was to get to consecutive bowl appearances for the first time in school history.
The Jags would start the season with some big time matchups as they would travel to Ole Miss in the opener and then host Oklahoma State on a Friday night during Week Two. The Jags did some decent things in both outings, but an ankle sprain injury to Cole Garvin would begin a quarterback carousel that would last the entire season.
For the year, the passing game really struggled as the Jags scored 19.8 points per game which was good for 11th in the Sun Belt. The inefficiencies started at the quarterback position as both Garvin and Davis would combine to complete 54% of their passes, had 15 touchdowns, 14 interceptions, and averaged less than seven yards per attempt. This is really ugly and was a big reason why offensive coordinator Bryant Vincent was relieved of his duties in September. Once Vincent left, we saw an uptick in this offense.
In the win over Troy, South Alabama controlled the football and then would drop 33 points on ULM the following week. After a slow start, the Jags were sitting at 3-4 and had a schedule that made another bowl trip a very attainable goal. But for the rest of the season, the defense fell apart and the offense did not score more than 24 points in an outing as interim offensive coordinator Richard Owens called the shots.
The Jags would pull off their second huge upset of the season as they knocked off Arkansas State on November 11th, but the Jags would lose their other remaining league games to close the season. Immediately following a 52-0 blowout loss to a winless Georgia Southern squad, athletic director Joel Erdmann decided it was time to make a change in leadership as Jones was relieved of his duties.
The season would close with a loss to New Mexico State on the road as the Jags would finish the season 4-8 which is good for the second worst mark in program history.
We should’ve have seen this coming. In both 2015 and 2016, the Jags pulled off three upsets as double-digit underdogs. They would repeat that feat twice in 2017.
The Jags headed to Troy as an 18-point dog and dominated the Trojans as they won back “The Belt”. South Alabama’s defense was phenomenal in this outing as they forced four turnovers and only allowed one touchdown to a strong Troy offense.
Then a few weeks later at Ladd-Peebles Stadium, the Jags pulled off a stunner as a 12.5-point home underdog to Arkansas State. In this 24-19 victory, the Jags defense again came up big as they forced six turnovers.
Joey Jones had a lot of flaws, but he consistently had his team playing very well as a big underdog.
Xavier Johnson entered this season as this offense’s only really proven commodity as he would only need 363 yards to become this program’s all-time leading rusher. The Tampa native would get that, but his season would be cut short.
After only putting up negative-three rushing yards and multiple personal foul penalties in the loss to Georgia State, Joey Jones announced that the senior tailback would be suspended for the rest of the season. This offense really missed his production in the last four games as they never topped more than 24 points the rest of the year and as a team they rushed for less than 30 yards in each of their final three games.
For the season, Johnson would put up 445 yards on 82 carries with six touchdowns as well as being a very explosive kick returner. This offense did not have much go right for it all season and Johnson’s suspension played a big part in that.
With Jones out, the South Alabama brass has tagged Steve Campbell as the new head coach in Mobile and the Pensacola native has an impressive resume. The 51-year-old as won big at Division II, in junior college, and in the FCS. He’s been successful everywhere and should be able to continually pull talent out of the Mississippi junior colleges that Jones and his staff consistently recruited.
The groundwork has been set and the hard work has been done. Jones did a great job building the program and now the time for contending for conference championships is here. Can this consistently be done in Mobile? We’re about to find out.