WHO: South Alabama (6-4) at South Carolina (5-5)
WHEN: Saturday, November 22, 11 AM CST, Fox Sports South
WEATHER: 56°/42° 0% rain
The Jaguars have earned bowl eligibility just in time.
They will begin their final two games, collectively known as "going through the wood chipper," with a trip to South Carolina for an 11am (CST) kickoff. But South Alabama looks to chop some wood themselves in an attempt to send a message to everyone that they aren't a pushover.
These are some lofty goals.
Early this season the Jaguars had the chance to make a statement against Mississippi State. Turnovers and a slew of dropped passes kept them from taking advantage of early opportunities. Subsequently, they lost that game 35-5 to the Bulldogs. Now the Jags have another chance to make a statement against an SEC team this season.
Just two weeks ago, the Jaguars were dismantled by Arkansas State 45-10 and as a result, many fans wrote them off. They had eight starters out leading up to the game including starting quarterback Brandon Bridge. But late in the game in Jonesboro, they found something in third string quarterback Hunter Vaughn, a walk-on transfer from Butler Community College in Kansas.
Vaughn earned the start against Texas State last Saturday and led the team to their biggest win of the season. When the game was over, Vaughn had gone 20-of-28 for 182 yards with a touchdown and an interception while running for 15 more yards and even catching a 28-yard touchdown.
Vaughn may get the start again this week if Bridge's ankle is not ready for action. But I wouldn't hold my breath for an official announcement prior to Saturday.
What does South Alabama have to do to beat South Carolina?
Well, let's look at what they should avoid to secure the win. They can't go 1-of-6 on third-down in the first half, they can't turn the ball over four times, and they can't fumble the ball on three-consecutive possessions in their own territory. Also, they can't expect to hold the Gamecocks to only 10 points off those three turnovers either.
*Ahem* What else can South Alabama do to win?
Score early (and often). The Gamecock defense ranks near the bottom of the SEC, so there's an opportunity for the Jaguars to score. However, even though the Jaguar defense allows 23.1 points per game, USC averages 34.6 points and 461.7 yards per game.
Hopefully USC is thinking more about skinning a Clemson Tiger rather than a Jaguar this weekend. Early success by the Jaguars against a team that's looking past them and has experienced a roller coaster of a season could put pressure on USC and allow the Jaguars to sneak out with an upset.
Win the turnover battle. Coaches harp on protecting the ball and forcing takeaways. In the Jaguars four losses this season, they have turned the ball over 11 times. In their first five wins this season they only turned the ball over twice. Last week they turned the ball over four times and still managed to win by sheer grit and determination. But South Alabama may not have the talent and depth to do the same against an SEC school.
Run the ball. In all six wins they have rushed for over 150 yards but they won't be able to simply go out and run between the tackles against South Carolina. Instead they will have to throw the ball effectively to keep the Gamecock defense honest and not stack the box or blitz to their hearts content. Regardless of whom the coaches decide as the quarterback, they must have a strong game and complete some deep passes to spread the defense and get the running game going.
Hope USC has another down week. Coach Steve Spurrier hopes that the game film they've been watching will help keep his team focused. They need this win to get bowl eligible prior to their rivalry game against Clemson in order to close out their regular season. Adding to the mix is the fact that it's Senior Day in Columbia and the seniors will want to walk off the field proudly with one last victory at home.
In his press conferences, Spurrier is continually asked about his future and the future of his staff at South Carolina, which draws his attention away from the imminent stakes.
A 25.5 point spread? Historically, South has been able to beat this spread more times than not in similar circumstances. I don't think USC covers the spread in this game. But will it be the Gamecocks only winning by 24 or will it be closer than that, like it was last season in Knoxville?
I hope South Alabama can put together a really good game and make this more interesting than what many think a game with a 25.5 point spread is likely to be.