By: Michael Hanich | Sports Editor
This season has given many tough tasks and matchups to the South Alabama Jaguars (1-6). This Saturday might be their toughest yet as they will host the #21 Appalachian State Mountaineers (6-0). Not only are the Mountaineers the best team in the Sun Belt Conference but they are also the highest ranked opponent the Jaguars have played or likely will play the rest of the season. The Jaguars feel confident in their abilities and game plays to beat Appalachian State.
The Jaguars’ defense will have their toughest game of the season versus the Mountaineers’ well-balanced offense. The Mountaineers’ offense ranks seventh in the nation in points scored per game (42.8). This is largely due to Appalachian State having the most experienced offensive line in the Sun Belt Conference and one of the most experienced in the nation. The Jaguars’ defense will need to be alert for Mountaineers running back Darrynton Evans, who has rushed for 676 yards and 10 touchdowns on 106 carries.
The Jaguars’ defense has been getting better at defending the passing game through recent games. South Alabama, however, still allow an average of 201.1 passing yards per game. Cornerback Jalen Thompson and Travis Reed have been completely solid in man coverages. The problem with allowing big plays from the Jaguars’ defense happens in zone coverage schemes. Playing less zone coverage and more spy coverages might avoid easy plays from the opposing offenses. The good news for South Alabama’s defense is that defensive end Tyree Turner is back in the lineup after suffering a sprained ankle in the first game of the season against the #24 Nebraska Cornhuskers.
Appalachian State’s defense might be one of the well balanced and tenacious the Jaguars might see all season after the UAB Blazers. The Mountaineers allow an average of 208.8 passing yards per game and 149 rushing yards per game. One of the biggest keys for the Jaguars in this matchup is to have the offensive line contain the aggressive Mountaineers defensive line and blitzers. They will be tasked to containing a defense that has accounted for 38 tackles for loss and 15 sacks in six games.
The offensive line for the Jaguars must create push and win at the line of scrimmage to establish a great running game. Senior running back Tra Minter has been an excellent runner from outside the tackles but will need to run inside to account for more first downs. This is where the offensive line comes into effect. The passing game, led by sophomore quarterback Cephus Johnson and junior wide receiver Kawaan Baker, has been progressing from deep passes to medium-range passes game-by-game.
When asked about the different passing schemes each game, Baker said “So far, we’ve got a lot of good gameplan going. We’ve got a lot of deep stuff and a lot of short stuff and some stuff in between mixing with the run plays, and we are going to implement it together for a big win.”
In three seasons with the Jaguars, Baker has accounted for 991 career reception yards which is eight all-time in Jaguars’ football history. He is nine yards away from accounting for 1,000 career reception yards and joining the likes former Jaguars in the NFL like Los Angeles Rams tight end Gerald Everett and Washington Redskins tight end Wes Saxton.