Two-thirds of the way through 2022, South Alabama has ensured its season will stretch past the required 12 games.
The Jaguars beat Arkansas State 31-3 in rainy Jonesboro on Saturday, perhaps the most decisive road victory in the program’s 13-year history. South Alabama is now bowl eligible at 6-2 overall and remains tied for second in the Sun Belt Conference West Division with a 3-1 league mark.
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The final four games of the regular season will determine whether this is a special season for the Jaguars or just a successful one. Before that, here are 5 things we learned from South Alabama’s dominant win over the Red Wolves:
1. Bowling eligibility is not the final game for this team
South Alabama has only been bowled twice in its history and not at all since 2016, so getting to six wins is a big accomplishment for this team. But there’s a lot more on the table for the Jaguars, including a winning Finals record, a school record for wins and even division and conference championships if things go wrong. South Alabama’s two losses this season have come by a total of five points, so this team has shown it can play with anyone. How the Jaguars play against Georgia Southern, Texas State, Southern Miss and Old Dominion over the next four weeks will show if they can close as strong as they started.
2. South Alabama continues to own the state of Arkansas
Although it struggled, South Alabama handled Arkansas State. Saturday’s win was the Jaguars’ fourth straight win over the Red Wolves, the longest streak against any Sun Belt opponent. But Saturday’s performance was his most dominant of the series and showed just how big a gap has grown between the two programs, both of which have second-year head coaches. South Alabama did just enough offensively to pull away early and was so overpowered on defense that it probably could have played two more quarters and Arkansas State wouldn’t have scored a touchdown. It wasn’t a perfect game by any means, but there was no taking into account the talent and depth advantage Kane Wommack’s Jaguars have over Butch Jones’ Red Wolves.
3. The Jaguars play best when they start fast
South Alabama scored just five plays in Saturday’s game and led 14-3 after one quarter, more than enough of an advantage against hapless Arkansas State. For the sixth time in eight games, the Jaguars led after the first quarter. They’re not 6-0 in those games, but they’ve combined for just 26 points in the two games they haven’t led early. The running game returned with the return of La’Damian Webb, who ran for 69 yards on the first play of the day and totaled a career-best 162 yards and three touchdowns. Carter Bradley’s 49-yard touchdown pass to Jalen Wayne was another big play that helped extend the Jaguars’ lead in the first quarter.
4. South Alabama’s road “block” is a thing of the past
The Jaguars are 3-1 on the road this season, with wins at Central Michigan, Louisiana and Arkansas State and a one-point loss at UCLA. It wasn’t that long ago that South Alabama lost 15 straight road games and went more than two years without a win away from Mobile. Even last year’s team went 1-5 on the road, the only victory coming on a last-second field goal at Bowling Green. Things certainly turned around as the Jaguars dominated both the Chippewas and the Red Wolves and were able to win in Lafayette for the first time in program history. South Alabama has remaining games at Georgia Southern and Southern Miss, the former where they are 0-4 all-time and the latter for a game that could help determine the West Division title.
5. The Jaguars ‘Swarm D’ is in play right now
After several coverage breakdowns led to big Louisiana-Monroe plays on Oct. 8, South Alabama absolutely suffocated its last two opponents on defense. The Jaguars allowed just 266 yards and 10 scores in a loss at Troy on Oct. 20, then 153 yards and three scores against Arkansas State on Saturday — including a program-record 19 yards rushing. South Alabama ranks in the Top 20 nationally in many defensive categories and ranks among the best in rushing defense, third-down defense and turnovers. This gives the Jaguars a chance to beat everyone on their schedule.
Next: South Alabama plays at Georgia Southern on Saturday at 3 p.m. The game will be streamed live on ESPN+.