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Updated: Tuesday, 25 Sep 2012, 10:35 PM CDT
Published : Tuesday, 25 Sep 2012, 10:35 PM CDT
MOBILE, Ala. (WALA) - Since the announcement in December 2007 by the University of South Alabama that it would start a football program, the school has taken many steps on the way to the NCAA Football Subdivision level. One of the final landmark moments en route to completing the transition and being a fully-certified, bowl- and league-championship eligible program will take place on Saturday.
That’s when the Jaguars, in their fourth season of competition, will play host to Troy in the school’s first-ever Sun Belt Conference game.
“The fact that it’s our first Sun Belt Conference game at Ladd-Peebles Stadium excites us because this is what our future is going to be,” stated USA head coach Joey Jones. “Just being in the Sun Belt Conference is going to be great for us. So the anticipation of all that is certainly something we’re looking forward to and what we’re working toward every week.
“Troy is the standard for the Sun Belt, no doubt in my mind; if you get to their level, you’re up there. We fully understand what they’ve done, and we’re excited about playing them. I think it is going to be a great atmosphere here in Mobile. This will be the biggest game that we’ve played at Ladd-Peebles Stadium.”
And it’s not just the coaching staff and administration that is looking forward to the Jags taking another step in their development. The student-athletes in the program are excited about the contest as well.
“That’s really all you hear people talking about — how big this game is,” sophomore wide receiver Jeremé Jones, a Mobile native, said. “It’s going to be a new experience for us, because we haven’t really had a game this big at Ladd-Peebles [Stadium]. It’s going to be something to look forward to; I’m real excited about it.”
“This is what the team and program has been waiting for the last four or five years, to join the Sun Belt,” Jake Johnson, a senior inside linebacker, added. “It’s a real exciting moment for the team and coaches. There’s a lot of excitement. Everyone in the fieldhouse is excited to get this Sun Belt schedule going.”
The game will kick off at 2:30 p.m. at Ladd-Peebles Stadium. It will air regionally on Comcast Sports Southeast (local cable channel 37) as part of the Sun Belt Network, and can also be seen nationally on ESPN3. The first 10,000 fans through the gates will receive a free red Jaguar rally towel, as USA will be in its traditional red jerseys.
The Ladd-Peebles parking lot will open Saturday at 8 a.m. for those interested in tailgating, with the Jaguar Prowl going through the south parking lot beginning at 12:10 p.m. Gates will open at 12:30 p.m., two hours before the start of the contest.
Round-trip shuttles, at a cost of $2.50 per person, will be available at the Bel Air Mall parking lot south of Target and J.C. Penney at 10:30 a.m., providing continuous loop service to and from the stadium until 90 minutes after the end of the game.
In the last two weeks, the Jaguars (1-3, 0-0 Sun Belt) and Trojans (2-2, 1-1 SBC) have faced Mississippi State. USA dropped a 30-10 decision to the nationally-ranked Bulldogs last weekend in Starkville, while on Sept. 15 Troy fell to MSU, 30-24, at home; in those games, the Jag defense allowed fewer yards (356 to Troy’s 457) although the Trojan offense put up more yards against the Bulldogs (572 to USA’s 347).
Last week, USA had three individuals post 10 or more tackles led by Enrique Williams’ 12; Johnson and B.J. Scott were credited with 10 apiece. Johnson, Williams and Pat Moore all posted 1½ stops behind the line of scrimmage — the unit had seven total in the game — while Tyrell Pearson intercepted his second pass of the season while breaking up another attempt.
Johnson stands second in the league with 10 tackles and 1.38 stops for loss per outing, and Williams is tied for 10th with 8.5 stops per contest. Pearson ranks third in the Sun Belt in interceptions and fourth in passes broken up, while Moore is fourth in sacks per game.
The Jags will be facing a Troy offense that leads the conference in passing yards per game (335.5 ypg) and is also third with 498.75 yards per contest of total offense. Quarterback Corey Robinson (118-of-177, 1,266 yds, 6 TDs) and Shawn Southwick (78-430, 5 TDs) rank first in the SBC in passing and rushing yards per outing, respectively. Chip Reeves is the team’s leading receiver with 26 receptions for 361 yards and two scores, and Eric Thomas has caught 24 passes for 169 yards also.
“They are a wide-open spread offense,” explained Johnson. “Corey Robinson, their quarterback, has a great arm. He can throw it deep or short, and has a good release. They have good receivers and the offensive line protects him. They’re a good offense; they don’t shy away from anything.”
Bryant Lavender caught a career-high-tying six passes for 80 yards, Jones added four receptions for 49 yards — it was his 18th straight game with at least one catch — and Greg Hollinger recorded three catches for 49 yards including an 18-yard touchdown pass from
C.J. Bennett in the fourth quarter last time out. The Jags have four receivers with double-digit catch totals, with T.J. Glover joining the group with 12 receptions through four games.
Bennett was 14-of-26 passing against the Bulldogs, as he has completed 58.8 percent of his attempts (50-of-85) for 521 yards and three scores in 2012. Ross Metheny — coming off his first career start — is 28-of-49 passing, a 57.1 completion rate, with 317 yards and a touchdown. Demetre Baker paces the Jags with 232 yards and a touchdown rushing after he gained 49 yards on 12 attempts on Saturday; the sophomore has been the team’s leading rusher in each of its first four games this fall.
“The interception before halftime wasn’t good but other than that, I didn’t think we made as many mistakes,” Jones said of USA’s offensive performance last week. “I thought we converted better on third down — it wasn’t great but it was better. We have to stick the ball in the end zone, that’s the biggest thing we have to do.”
Troy’s defense is led by Brynden Trawick, the reigning SBC Defensive Player of the Week. In a 14-7 victory at North Texas, Trawick was credited with 15 tackles — including 1½ behind the line — and a pass break up; he has a team-high 35 stops this season. Brannon Bryan has added 30 tackles, with 21 of those unassisted, and Dimitri Miles has 25, while Bryan Willis has defended three passes.
“When you talk about Troy you think about how they have dominated the Sun Belt Conference over the years, I think they have won five of the last six [championships],” observed Jones. “Coach [Larry] Blakeney has built a great program there — they were a I-AA program when he first got there, then they moved to Division I-A. They’ve made that step really well, it took them a couple years but they certainly have moved up the ladder and are really a model for us as a young program.
“You look at Troy and what they have done, we are trying to model a lot of things we do after them. We’re looking forward to the game this weekend.”
-- USA media relations
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