Start Time: 3:00 PM EST, Saturday, November 7
Location: Ladd-Peebles Stadium, Mobile, Alabama
Records: Idaho: 3-5. South Alabama: 3-4. South Alabama leads the overall series 1-0.
Live Stats: here.
Line: South Alabama -10. Over/Under: 64.5.
Idaho Outlook: When the Vandals miss out on a bowl berth, they will be kicking themselves for a collapse versus New Mexico State last week.
The Vandals have been solid rushing the ball with senior running back Elijhaa Penny. His 814 yards on the ground account for 67.2% of all rushing yards on the season. Aaron Duckworth has been solid in backup duties, but cannot get yards consistently at the rate of Penny.
The run game is among the best in the nation at getting positive yards on run plays, only getting stuffed on 17.2% of those occasions. Above all, Idaho does not fumble the football in the run game. The running backs have only fumbled twice with the Vandals recovering both times.
Passing the football has been an adventure for Idaho with Matt Linehan struggling to find the consistency badly needed at quarterback. In addition, he lost his top receiver, Dezmon Epps, indefinitely due to suspension. Epps has been targeted on 28.4% of all pass attempts.
In his absence, Callen Hightower, Deon Watson, Trent Cowan, and Penny have been able to get more involved in the passing game. All four now have over 20 catches on the season, giving Idaho a more varied passing attack than earlier in the season. Overall, the Vandals throw for 268.8 yards per game.
Idaho is another Sun Belt team that often looks confused and clueless on defense. The defense is giving up 497.2 yards per game of total offense and 39.9 points per game. If they were even slightly below average, the Vandals would be one of the top four teams in the Sun Belt.
Stopping the run has been an utter failure with the rush defense giving up 263 yards per game. Only 10 teams in the nation rush for more yards per game than Idaho gives up. Stopping the pass has been a little more successful, but when you are running for 6.5 yards per carry, why pass?
Players to watch on the Idaho defense include: Broc Westlake, Quinton Bradley, and Chris Edwards.
South Alabama Outlook: After looking good with a 3-2 overall record and leading Arkansas State, things fell apart quickly for the Jaguars in 2015.
The biggest reason for the lack of recent success for USA is the inability to run the football. Xavier Johnson started the season in fine form, but has been unable to continue his early success. Tyreis Thomas is a solid rusher with a 4.6 yards per carry average. Much of the lack of success comes from a 21.5% stuff rate, meaning they gain nothing or even lose yards on over 20% of all rushes. Other than with the leading duo, running the ball has been completely ineffective for the Jaguars as evidenced by a 141.4 yards per game average on the ground.
People keep waiting for Cody Clements to feel comfortable at quarterback, but that has not happened yet. He is completing only 53.1% of his pass attempts and has only one more touchdown than interception. When he is at his best, he is completing passes to Gerald Everett, Josh Magee, and D.J. Vinson. All three were former teammates at UAB with Clements.
No other receiver on the team with 10 or more targets has a catch rate over 58%. Overall, the Jaguars have passed for 236.3 yards per game. If USA is to make a bowl this season, the passing game must wake up and become much more effective.
What is is with defense and the Sun Belt? The Jaguars are giving up 37.7 points per game and 399.3 yards per game on the year. Teams are rushing for over five yards per carry and barely even bothering to pass versus the Jaguars defense. The rush defense is among the worst in S&P+, success rate, and IsoPPP, three of the biggest indicators of defensive success. South Alabama has looked decent versus the pass, but again, teams have no incentive to throw the ball when they are so successful on the ground.
Players to watch on the South Alabama defense include: Blake Dees, DeMarion Harper, and Kalen Jackson.
Prediction: Normally, I would say that South Alabama wins this game running away. I can't see that happening with the way they are playing lately. Expect it to be a high scoring game that the Jaguars win late. South Alabama 42, Idaho 38.