Heading into the huge non-conference Friday night clash in Mobile, we knew the South Alabama defense was going to have a long night. Oklahoma State may have the best offense in college football behind Heisman candidate Mason Rudolph at quarterback and highlight reel receiver James Washington.
But what we did not envision was Oklahoma State’s defense absolutely dominating this contest from start to finish. Glenn Spencer’s defense has been questioned by a lot of people this offseason as a potenital weak link, but his group absolutely dominated a South Alabama offense that posted 374 yards and 27 points against Ole Miss in week one. The Jags only put up 175 yards of total offense for the night as USA started the game with four consecutive three-and-outs.
On the first series of the game, starting quarterback Cole Garvin was injured on a third down draw and would not return. Last year’s primary starter, Dallas Davis, stepped in and had a really rough night. The junior went 13-for-23 for 126 yards with a touchdown and a pick. That’s only 5.5 yards per attempt and Davis gave the offense nothing on the ground. That’s not good. The lowlight was a pick-six Davis threw in the third quarter that would be batted at the line of scrimmage by multiple Oklahoma State defensive linemen before being returned to the house. by Justin Phillips.
The running game was flat out embarrassing as the offensive line could not create a push as they were severely outplayed by the Oklahoma State front seven. As a team, South Alabama had zero rushing yards at halftime and finished the night with 41 yards on 27 carries. In a surprising move, stud tailback Xavier Johnson only received five carries as he led the teams with 36 yards rushing. After an impressive debut against Ole Miss, Tra Minter made no impact as he had 10 yards on seven carries.
The South Alabama offense just could not move the chains and only ran 51 plays. It was hard for them to establish any type of rhythm and the lone bright spot was wide receiver Jamarius Way. Way, the junior college transfer, had five receptions for 66 yards. Against Sun Belt competition, the south Florida native should post monster numbers this season.
There were just too many weapons for this South Alabama defense to deal with as Oklahoma State posted 505 yards on 63 plays. That’s good for eight yards per play and you’re going to win a lot of football games posting numbers like that. And tonight a lot of that production came through the air.
Mason Rudolph would not play in the fourth quarter after becoming Oklahoma State’s all-time leading passer after throwing for 335 yards on 38 attempts. Rudolph didn’t turn it over and added a rushing score to go with his three touchdown tosses. Defensive coordinator Kane Wommack had a very good scheme as they stuffed the run (Justice Hill had only 27 yards on 11 carries) while also not allowing Washington to get loose on vertical routes. But Rudolph sliced up the Jags in the intermediate passing game all night. Rudolph avoided sacks and hit slant patters off of RPO actions. It was obvious what South Alabama wanted to take away and Rudolph just took what was there.
The Pokes only had 163 rushing yards for the game, but 117 of those came after halftime. After rushing for 132 yards against Tulsa, Hill was very silent and outside of a 66-yard touchdown reception on a slant, James Washington did not do anything all night. It was an admirable performance by the defense but they just did not get any support from the offense.
After Garvin left the game nothing looked the same until the second quarter. South Alabama took over possession with just under nine minutes left in the second quarter trailing by 17. The Jags would finally start to connect on some passes as Davis would connect multiple times with Way as the Jags got into the redzone during the 13-play, 61 yard drive that lasted nearly eight minutes. After a nice run by Xavier Johnson got USA to the Oklahoma State 10, things went downhill quickly.
Davis would trip in the backfield on second down. Then he would miss on a slant pass on third down. Gavin Patterson would come on to miss a 31-yard field goal. This was South Alabama’s only chance to get back into the game and get some momentum. The Jags let that slip away as Rudolph would move the Pokes into field goal range and Oklahoma State would lead 20-0 at half. Then a flag would negate a 70-yard kickoff return by Johnson to start the second half and that would pretty much do it in Mobile.
Moving forward, there are some big issues that need to be addressed. First off, South Alabama needs Cole Garvin to get healthy quickly as the offense just looked way off with Davis behind center. It was rumored that Davis was still recovering from his shoulder injury and it appeared he just wasn’t comfortable running with the first string. Reps should fix that, but Garvin appears to be the better option right now.
It appears that South Alabama is not sure who their running back is at the moment and a find that somewhat surprising. Xavier Johnson will become the program’s leading rusher this season and he has been a playmaker for this offense the last two years. Not sure why he’s not getting more touches. Maybe the coaching staff is trying to monitor his touches to keep him healthy for all 12 games.
But there are some positives. Jamarius Way really flashed in the passing game tonight and he looks like he may be one of the best pass catchers in the Sun Belt. Maaseiah Francis still has a ton of athleticism from the tight end position and looks like he can be a real weapon.
The defensive front seven has been really stingy against the run in two games against strong FBS offenses. That is definitely a great building block moving forward. The pass rush still needs to be worked on, but that should come much easier against Group of Five offensive lines. Jeremy Reaves has proven to be one of the finer safeties in all of college football and he could be the best defensive player in the Sun Belt this fall.
It’ll be a tough film session for offensive coordinator Bryant Vincent, but all of South Alabama’s goals for 2017 are still on the table. Joey Jones stated at media day that he felt this team could win a conference title and we’ll find out if that is realistic very soon. The Jags should get right against FCS Alabama A&M next week before hosting Idaho in their Sun Belt opener.