The game that many Jaguar fans have had circled for a long time is finally here. Mississippi State is coming to town on Saturday.
This is the first SEC team to visit Mobile for a game since 1968. It's also the first time an SEC team is traveling to Mobile to take on the young South Alabama program. In a region that loves it's football and is in the heart of the southeastern Conference, this is about as big as it gets.
The Jaguars traveled to Starkville two seasons ago and earned some respect against the Bulldogs, but the lack of depth and size eventually wore down the Jaguars as Mississippi State won 30-10. Bulldog coaches and media readily admit it was an ugly game and the score did not reflect how close the game really was. But they are also quick to say that the Bulldogs should have had no problem in the game anyway.
But this is not the same Jaguar team that the Bulldogs faced two seasons ago but it some ways it is. The team has new offensive and defensive coordinators, the offense is now a multiple spread no-huddle offense while the defense still plays hard nosed football just in a different configuration than before. But what has stayed the same is the determination and will to succeed that has been with this program from the beginning.
Some would argue that South Alabama has Mississippi State right where they want them.
The game comes right before the Bulldog's conference opener against LSU, a team in their own division who they haven't defeated since 1999. If they are expected to compete in the SEC West, that is a game they need to win. Can they focus on the Jaguars who, by ESPN's account, is considered a "cream puff?" Can they get up for a game that Paul Finebaum and Bleacher Report both think will have the Jaguars upsetting the Bulldogs?
It sets up a classic "trap game" scenerio. Goliath, the big favorite from the big conference with all the big players and facilities, playing a game against the small guy David, who is only considered a spunky upstart program trying to make its way in the college football landscape. But the mighty Bulldogs will not be playing in their comfy confines of Davis Wade Stadium. No, they must travel to that spunky program's home stadium filled with rabit fans that would love nothing more than to see the mighty goliath fall to the hands of the humble David.
South Alabama's offense returns almost every starter from last season. Three running backs, four starting offensive linemen, a plethora of wide receivers and one of the top 5 tight ends in the nation last year. But then they add to that a 6'5" 235-pound quarterback in Brandon Bridge who, during his freshman season at Alcorn State, put up big numbers against the Bulldog defense including a 78-yard touchdown run. But don't forget the addition of former Alabama wide receiver Marvin Shinn, Claude Garrett and tight end Braeden Bowman and one can easily see how it could be a trap-type game.
UAB exposed the chink in the defensive armor of the Bulldogs last Saturday. The Blazers used several big plays, three scoring plays of 75 yards or more to be exact, against the Bulldog secondary to press the Bulldogs and take the lead over them a number of times in the first half. Additionally the Bulldogs allowed 411 yards of offense on just 10 plays. But through two games this season the Bulldog defense has allowed an average of 17 points, 92 yards rushing, 323.5 yards passing and 415.5 total yards per game.
But it was the Bulldogs who made the majority of their plays and which is why they are sitting a 2-0 on the season. UAB completed less than half of their passes 16-of-34 for 435 yards and were only sacked twice.
Some loyal fans may remember UAB's head coach. Just two short seasons ago he was the defensive coordinator for the Jaguars when they traveled to Starkville. It's almost a who's who of former Jaguar coaches. Bill Clark the head coach, Duwan Walker the defensive coordinator, Chuck Dunn the inside linebackers coach, Bryant Vincent the offensive coordinator were all assistants at South Alabama. Clark, Walker and Dunn were there at the very beginning of Jaguar football.
After finishing the 2013 season with three consecutive wins, the Jaguars kept that momentum going in the first game of the 2014 season at Kent State. But more importantly they won on the road in their first game of the season and finished the game strong when it was needed most.
Last season the Jaguars lost five games by seven points or less, four of those by two points or less. They went on the road to Knoxville and took Tennessee down to the final minute with a chance to tie or take the lead inside their 10 yard line.
The Jaguar defense has it's work cut out for them though. They graduated several defensive linemen and linebackers that led the team in tackles and tackles-for-loss last season. The Bulldogs will try to exploit that by using their big offensive linemen to wear on the defensive front and try to exploit a defense that gave up several big plays on the ground last season.
Meanwhile the Bulldogs have junior quarterback Dak Prescott who beat the Blazers both with his arm and with his legs. He completed 12-of-25 passes for 211 yards and four touchdowns and ran 18 times for 111 yards and another touchdown. Through two games the Bulldogs are averaging 48 points per game and 533 yards of total offense per game in a fairly balanced offensive attack (246.5 yards rushing and 286.5 yards passing per game).
Coaches tell their players all the time, if you can keep the game close into the fourth quarter, you have a chance to win the game. That is exactly what head coach Joey Jones wants to do this week. It's actually the same approach that they took last season at Tennessee - fight hard all game, keep it close to the fourth quarter and give yourself a chance to win the game. The Jaguar coaches and players have treated this week just like any other week, to them it's just business as usual
The game will be broadcast on ESPNews with kickoff at 3PM CDT.