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This season comes complete with higher expectations than South Alabama carried a year ago. But, coming off an excruciating rivalry loss to Troy, it’s easy to peek back at a 2021 season that fell apart at the end.
The Jaguars, in Kane Wommack’s first season as the head coach, were 5-3 heading into the Troy game. A 31-24 loss to the Trojans was the first of a four-game losing streak that ended the season with the Jaguars one game short of reaching bowl eligibility.
Last Thursday, the Jaguars dropped a 10-6 decision to Troy in a highly-anticipated showdown that was watched by a national television audience and determined the leader in the Sun Belt West.
Wommack, whose team fell to 5-2, was reminded during his weekly press conference on Monday that this was about the time last season got away.
“It's a fair point, and you see that in some teams,” Wommack said. “Great teams continue to strive to get better and stay relentless in their process or they start to fall to the wayside. We fell short of our process and standard as the season wore on [last year]. Some of that was due to injuries. Some of that was because the team wore down and didn't take advantage of opportunities as the season went. You certainly can point to some responsiveness at the end of the year in how we played against Coastal Carolina and some of the response that we had against Troy in the second half a year ago, but I do think this is a different team this year.”
South Alabama can prove that on Saturday when the Jaguars visit an Arkansas State team that is struggling under second-year head coach Butch Jones. The Red Wolves are 2-6 this season and were 2-10 in Jones’ first season in Jonesboro.
“You will see a different response from us this week,” Wommack said. “I think we are very aware that we didn't play anywhere near the standard, and I don't mean to say that to take away from Troy. I thought [Troy head coach Jon Sumrall] and his staff did a tremendous job, they really did, but that was an earned loss by South Alabama plain and simple. Those are the ones that are hard to swallow. It's the thing that's hard and [at the same time] great about college football. It wasn't our last game of the season, so we get a chance to respond."
The Thursday game allowed the Jaguars more time to reflect with a couple of extra days off. In this case, that wasn’t necessarily a good thing.
“Even without looking at the film, I was ready to go the next day,” said South Alabama quarterback Carter Bradley, who had his least effective game in a South Alabama uniform. “It makes me sick to my stomach looking at the game and what we could have done and what I could have done better. But, that's football. We need to take it on the chin like a big boy and move on and get ready for Arkansas State."
Fixing some offensive problems is the first step. Bradley was 29-of-40, passing for 215 yards with an interception. The running game produced just 31 yards on 21 carries with La’Damian Webb carrying the ball eight times for 12 yards.
“It always starts with yourself in terms of getting your guys in the best opportunities,” said South Alabama offensive coordinator Major Applewhite. “I thought we found a rhythm later on in some drives, but we kind of went backwards, two steps forward three steps back. Whether it's a self-inflicted wound or a penalty. But there is a lot of blame to share, and it's not about fixing blame, it's about fixing problems. That's what we talked about this morning as a unit. You know, 'What did I do individually that I can improve on?.’ There's a lot of things throughout the game, too much to handle in one question."
Defensively, South Alabama played well for the most part, allowing just one touchdown, but Troy was able to control the ball on the ground at times.
“We just never really established dominance at the line of scrimmage like we have done in the past,” said South Alabama defensive coordinator Corey Batoon. “I was a little disappointed in that. A little bit of it was alignment, a little bit of it was eyes, things we need to correct. But I thought the effort and the execution for the most part was good. That was the first time we hadn't really established the line of scrimmage and that's something that we need to get back to where it needs to be."
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