South Alabama’s three-week grind of a road swing reaches perhaps its apex on Saturday night.
The Jaguars (3-3, 2-1 Sun Belt Conference) travel to Conway, S.C., to face Coastal Carolina, which is not only undefeated but one of the biggest stories in college football in 2020. The Chanticleers (6-0, 4-0) are ranked No. 15 nationally, the highest ranking ever achieved by a Sun Belt Conference team.
“The great thing for us though is we still control our own destiny,” South Alabama coach Steve Campbell said. “We’ll have another good opportunity this weekend against an outstanding Coastal Carolina team. They are well-coached and have a lot of great athletes on both sides of the ball. Their quarterback is an outstanding player, they’ve got speed at running back position and a couple of good wide receivers. They do a good job of getting the ball to the backs out of the backfield. They run a lot of option and throw the ball well, which presents assignment conflicts. We’re going to have to do a good job of remaining assignment sound in both areas.
“Defensively, Coastal Carolina has some of the top tackle-for-loss guys and sack players in the league. That makes having success on those early downs that much more important. We need to win first down both on offense and on defense. It’s a big challenge, but it’s one that we’re looking forward to.”
The Chanticleers are alone in first place in the Sun Belt East Division, but as Campbell noted, the Jaguars are also firmly in the running for a division title. South Alabama is a half-game back in West Division standings behind Louisiana, a team it will visit on Nov. 14 in Lafayette for the third of its three straight road games.
The game with Coastal Carolina — which kicks off at 7 p.m. and will be televised nationally by ESPNU — could have been even more high-profile had South Alabama taken care of business last Thursday night at Georgia Southern. The Jaguars led by seven points heading into the fourth quarter before allowing two straight touchdowns and losing 24-17.
“We need to stay focused on what we learn because if you take one wrong step, then the opponent is going to take advantage of that and that’s what Georgia Southern did,” South Alabama linebacker Christian Bell said. “You do not want to make any mistakes in any games. You want to minimize the penalties and bad plays.”
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Coastal Carolina has already set a school record for wins as an FBS program, having moved up for the FCS ranks in 2017. The Chanticleers went 5-7 each of the last two seasons, missing out on a bowl trip when they lost 30-28 to South Alabama in Mobile in their 2018 finale.
But Coastal has improved dramatically in its second season under coach Jamey Chadwell. A big part of that transformation has been the play of redshirt freshman quarterback Grayson McCall, who has passed for 1,184 yards and 15 touchdowns with just one interception in five games this season.
McCall missed the Chanticleers’ 28-14 victory over Georgia Southern on Oct. 24 with an “upper body injury,” but returned in fine form last week vs. Georgia State. He passed for 254 yards and four touchdowns — and also ran for a score — as Coastal won 51-0, skipping most of the fourth quarter after the Chants jumped out to a 48-0 lead.
“He’s really good, very efficient and makes things look easy,” South Alabama defensive coordinator Greg Stewart said. “He gets the backs out of the backfield, completes short throws, he does not get sacked much and makes good decisions. He throws it to 1 [C.J. Marable] who is a great player and 6 [Jaivon Heiligh] is a great player too. We have to find a way to contain him. We need a very good red-zone plan. If they are not the best in the country, they are one of the top five when it comes to scoring touchdowns in the red zone. I think a key for us is playing good in the red zone, not letting them throw the ball over our head and do a good job stopping the running game.”
South Alabama got a good game from its own quarterback against Georgia Southern, as Desmond Trotter threw for 200 yards and two touchdowns with no interceptions. The Jaguars had a shot for the tie in the waning seconds, but Trotter’s pass to Jalen Tolbert in the end zone fell incomplete after Tolbert was unable to complete the catch all the way to the ground.
With starting right guard Jacob Shoemaker out due to injury and left tackle Wyatt Green limited somewhat, the Jaguars did not pose much of a threat running the ball. Carlos Davis was held to 70 yards on 20 carries and was often hit in the backfield by Georgia Southern defenders.
“We need to stay out of third and long, and give our guys a few more opportunities to make plays down the field,” South Alabama offensive coordinator Kenny Edenfield said. “And thing about that is you have to be selective in doing that, because if you don’t complete it then it is second and long and you are behind the chains. You have to keep doing it; you can’t get frustrated with it. Our guys are going to make more plays than they don’t, and I think that’s something I probably should have done a little more of last week – just keep giving them chances to make the one-on-one play.”
‣ South Alabama only needed to make a minor alteration to its weekly practice schedule due to Tuesday being an NCAA-mandated player off day for to the 2020 election. The Jaguars practiced Monday, which is typically an off day for the players and will take Tuesday off before resuming workouts Wednesday afternoon.
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