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Stingy, Opportunistic Jags Upset Troy

By Jim Johnson
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Seemingly no team in the country vacillates between giant killer and dwarf like South Alabama.

South Alabama may not have started the season the way it would have wanted, but it started the season, largely, the way it was expected to.

That’s why it’s difficult to understand why the perception of the team plummeted through the first five contests of 2017.

This team, picked to finish fourth in the conference, during the preseason, is not wanting in talent. Just like last year, the problem is one of consistency, or the lack thereof.

Seemingly no team in the country vacillates between giant killer and dwarf like South Alabama.

When the Jaguars are bad, like the defense was against Ole Miss, or the offense was against Oklahoma State, they flame out like nobody’s business. When the Jaguars are good, however, like they were tonight, at Troy, they can give just about any team in the nation a run for its money.

Again, though, reminiscent of 2016, South Alabama’s long term success is dependent upon its ability to create, and then maintain, some modicum of regularity within its ranks.

Against Ole Miss, South Alabama finished drives at a high rate, had above average offensive efficiency, and won the turnover battle. On the flipside, their defense allowed their opponents finish drives at a similarly high rate, have more drive finishing opportunities, have a ridiculously high offensive efficiency, and they lost the field position battle.

Oklahoma State was never, realistically, a winnable game, and the win over Alabama A&M was as dominant as expected.

Getting into conference play, the Idaho game was just a bizarre amalgam of weather delays and overtime and all kinds of tomfoolery. The Vandals did deserve to win that game, but still.

Louisiana Tech was both similar and different from the standpoint of, while the result was the same, many of the facets of the game South Alabama did well in against Idaho were less so, and in some cases the vice versa.

Tonight, South Alabama finally put enough together, at the same time, to grab a huge conference win, on the road.

The scary thing for Jags fans is that following the two biggest wins of last year, South Alabama lost both of its subsequent games. The scary thing for the Jaguars’ opponents is that South Alabama still hasn’t played a complete game.

To reiterate, for the people in the back: South Alabama just manhandled, arguably, the best team in the Sun Belt and it still has plenty of room for improvement.

Troy was actually more efficient and more explosive than South Alabama was. The Trojans had a rushing success rate of 25%, a passing success rate of 36.2% and a composite success rate of 32.8%. South Alabama’s success rates were 15.9% on the ground, 35% through the air, and 21.9% overall. The home team also averaged a full yard per play more than the Jaguars.

Troy win the field position battle, too, with an average starting field position of the 32.7 yard line to South Alabama average starting field position of the 30.7.

The two facets of the competition which South Alabama won so handily that it was enough to overcome the more slight deficits in the other factors were the turnover battle and drive finishing.

A very stingy defense, led by Jeremy Reaves, allowed Troy to get inside the 40-yard line six times, but only gave up eight points, an average of 1.3 points per trip, while their own offense scored 19 on just four trips, an average of 4.7 points per.

That coupled with an overwhelming +3 turnover margin in favor of South Alabama, two of which came off of special teams plays, was plenty to knock off one of the two favorites in the conference.

It’s impossible to know what to expect out of South Alabama from one week to the next, but tonight, on Larry Blakeney Field, it proved once again that this is a team, on any given gameday, that can compete with the best teams both in the Sun Belt and around the country.

Jim Johnson - Editor of Southern Pigskin, Producer of "Three & Out", and host of "Explosive Recruiting" on the Southern Pigskin Radio Network. E-mail: Twitter: @JimJohnsonSP