South Alabama (5-4, 4-3 Sun Belt) is backed into a corner and if you know anything about an animal being backed into a corner, they can be dangerous. But with injuries piling up, will they be too hurt to put up enough fight to win the game and a bowl game?
On the other hand Texas State (5-4, 3-2 Sun Belt) just needs to win out and they will all but secure the third bowl slot for the Sun Belt conference. However they have to defeat South Alabama in Mobile to stay in the drivers seat for that bowl slot.
How to Beat the Bobcats
Run the ball
In each of the Jaguars' wins they have rushed for over 150 yards, and in each of their four Sun Belt wins they have rushed for over 200 yards. That will take the pressure off of quarterback Brandon Bridge and loosen up the vertical passing game.
In general, the Jaguar offense must execute better. They're last in the conference converting third-downs (33%), converting fourth-downs (10%), and red zone success (72%).
Meanwhile the defense is near the top in the conference in scoring (23.4 ppg), pass defense (201.3 ypg), and total defense (377.3 ypg). But the defense can't carry the team when the offense can't score in the red zone or covert 3rd downs.
Protect the ball
In last week's loss to Arkansas State the Jaguars had four turnovers. In the four losses this season they turned the ball over 11 times. In their five wins they only had two turnovers.
No huddle for the Win
Texas State's defense had problems against New Mexico State and Illinois when they went no huddle against the Bobcats. The Jaguars will may make heavy use of it they also find success running it against the bobcats.
How to Beat the Jaguars
Open up the playbook
Last week Dennis Franchione and his coaching staff went for broke against Georgia Southern with some aggressive decisions to go for it on 4th down and kick a surprise onside kick, and it almost worked.
Texas State showed they can be an offensive threat when quarterback Tyler Jones is given the chance to open the field up (provided that he throws it to the correctly colored jersey) and defenders aren't loading 9 in the box to stop the Jones/Robert Lowe/Terrence Franks zone read package.
Win and this game gets you in position to go bowling, so it's time to pull out all the stops. Bradley Miller is a huge test for opposing linebackers in coverage and Ben Ijah is tall enough to win one on one battles against Sun Belt corners, so sending them downfield to stretch the defense should be a priority.
Win the Red Zone battle
Both teams have solid red zone defenses as South Alabama is tied for 24th and Texas State is 27th in the NCAA in keeping their opponents from scoring inside the 20. Texas State has also held their opponents to a 58% red zone touchdown rate while South Alabama has surrendered touchdowns at a similarly low 61% clip.
Where something has to give is each team's red zone offense. Texas State has scored points on 30 of 34 of their red zone trips (88%) whereas South Alabama hasn't been so successful (18 of 25 for a 72% scoring rate). The Bobcats haven't always had the easiest time keeping opponents out of the red zone (38 attempts by opponents), but if they can force a turnover or a missed field goal or two, that could be a difference in what should be a close game.
Contain Brandon Bridge
Bridge is banged up coming back from an injury, but he's still a potentially dangerous dual threat quarterback who can test an opponents' front seven with his legs and the secondary with his arm. The Bobcats did a wonderful job shutting down Kevin Ellison's passing attempts last week, but South Alabama's passing attack is a much different (read: more powerful) animal than Georgia Southern's.
Defensive coordinator John Thompson has been loathe to use David Mayo or Trey McGowen as a spy on opposing quarterbacks, so Michael Odiari's going to need to get pressure off the edge to force a few sacks and Dallas McClarty needs to plug any running lanes up the middle for Bridge.
Brian: South Alabama is approaching this game as their make-or-break game to get to a bowl. Some players are even are calling it their Super Bowl. Texas State has two more conference games after the Jaguars and will most likely (barring a sinkhole swallowing all of San Marcos) beat Georgia State and at least tie South Alabama with the same conference record. But by holding the tiebreaker, the Jaguars could still find their way into the Camellia Bowl.
I want to believe that Jaguar fans will turn out in droves to support the team, but many fans have split allegiances to "other teams" in the state. Others don't like the area where Ladd-Peebles Stadium is located or the amenities (or lack thereof) available at the 66 year old stadium.
In fact USA has not played the best at home and the crowds outside of the Mississippi State game have been sparse at best. The players remember the game last season and if the injured starters are able to go on Saturday, I think they can get the job done.
South Alabama 30, Texas State 28
Will: This has been one of those strange years where certain wins have almost felt like losses (Idaho, New Mexico State) and at least one loss has almost felt like a win (Georgia Southern). The primary reason for this has to do with the overall playcalling schemes.
When Texas State opens up the playbook a la GSU or Tulsa, they can field a powerful offense that's fun to watch (and even more fun for the players). When they're running a conservative zone read/horizontal screen offense that's designed to burn the clock and play not to lose, fans get annoyed, players get bad body language, and inferior teams mount comebacks. There's a reason Tyler Jones reportedly met with Coach Fran about the playcalling after the Louisiana game: the players want to be given the chance to go win the game themselves.
I'd like to think that the coaches learned their lesson from last week and will come out firing everything they have in order to get Texas State on track for their first bowl appearance. Even though USA has a major score to settle after last year's heartbreaker, the Bobcats are undefeated on the road in Sun Belt play, so I think they'll be focused and will escape Mobile with a tight victory.
Texas State 24, South Alabama 21