Jaguars Prepare For Conference Opener vs Troy on Saturday

September 30, 2015 · By · Filed Under Football, Sun Belt Conference 

usa_vs_troySouth Alabama’s start against NC State had the fans excited. Cody Clements connected with Chris Lewis for a 47 yard gain on the opening play and a couple plays later Clements found Gerald Everett for an 11 yard touchdown pass to put the Jaguars up 7-0 less than two minutes into the game.

However, except for two field goals, the rest of the scoring would be all Wolfpack.

NC State came in and showed why they were undefeated on the season, why they came into the game averaging over 440 yards per game and why they averaged over 40 points per game. They were undoubtedly the best team the Jaguars have ever faced in their short history and the scoreboard reflected that with the Jaguars worst loss in program history, 63-13.

But the story is not all doom and gloom and the score might indicate. The Jaguars found found opportunities to throw the ball downfield. Clements finished 14-of-33 for 201 yards and a touchdown, but he also had two interceptions. Lewis hauled in the longest pass for a Jaguar at 47 yards, but D.J. Vinson also had a catch for 45 yards and Marvin Shinn hauled one in for a 36 yard gain as they took advantage of deep opportunities. However the running game could never get going as the Jags only managed 45 yards rushing.

But now the second, and most important, part of the season begins: Conference play.

South Alabama and Troy will renew their new rivalry on Saturday in Troy, Alabama. And both sides will have something new to play for this upcoming game. Unveiled on social media, a championship-style belt will be presented to the winning program following the game starting this year in what is being dubbed as “The Battle for the Belt”.

South Alabama and Troy will play for the "Battle for the Belt" trophy on Saturday. | Photo credit: USA Vanguard.

South Alabama and Troy will play for the “Battle for the Belt” trophy on Saturday. | Photo credit: USA Vanguard.

“We’re excited about this ballgame,” head coach Joey Jones said at his weekly press conference on Monday. “Troy is a very good football team, and they have improved over last year. You don’t compare year-to-year, but I have watched what they’re doing and defensively they are much more sound. They are doing a good job of playing gap control. Offensively they really run the same stuff they have been, just a few wrinkles here or there with (head coach) Neal (Brown) coming in and calling some of the plays. But they do a good job with the spread offense. They are a typical Troy team – they play fast on offense and play very hard defensively.”

“It’s something that we are excited about,” Jones continued. “Our goals are to win the conference and get in a bowl game. It’s a great start this week, and we have eight games in a row but we are going to take them all one game at a time. We are going to keep pressing and keep getting better. The best team is going to win. The way I look at it, it’s not going to be about the emotion of the game. It’s going to be about who is the best team – who can block, tackle, function and execute. We are focusing on that in practice to get that done.”

Longtime head coach Larry Blakeney announced his retirement at the end of the season last year amid a rough season for the Trojans. So the Jaguars will face a new look Trojan team on the field this Saturday.

“They are probably a lot heavier in the screen game – the quick screens outside,” Jones observed about the Trojan offense. “They are really concentrating on that, and they’re going to do that. They are going to run eight to 10 of those a game. That’s just part of what they do and part of what he (head coach Neal Brown) has always done. They are going to add a new wrinkle or two. They are going to do some things different in the game and have some gimmicks. It’s pretty much the same deal, but they do it at a fast pace, similar to what we’re doing. I think our defense has had good practice against it from working against us all summer. That should help us, but we have to be on our toes.”

“They are very well-coached and they’re in the gaps they are supposed to be in; they are very gap sound,” Jones said of the Trojan defense. “That’s the best thing they do. They are very well-coached and disciplined. Up front they are going to step up and handle the right gap, that’s the biggest change and the biggest thing I have noticed about watching them.”

Both teams enter the game coming off a loss to Power Five teams, however the Trojans had an off week last weekend.

Last season the Jaguars got their first win in the series between the two schools with a 27-13 decision in Mobile to put their all-time record at 1-2.

Both schools are putting up very similar offensive numbers. USA averages 22 points per game while Troy is averaging 22.7 points per game. Offensively the Jaguars hold an edge with an average total offense of 377.2 to 311.3 yards per game.

Xavier Johnson is the Jaguars leading rusher with 320 yards and a 7.3 yard per attempt average. Tyreis Thomas has added 157 yards with an average of almost five yards per attempt. Cody Clements is 69-of-122 for 926 yards this season with five touchdowns and five interceptions. The Jaguars leading receiver, Gerald Everett, leads three Jaguars with double-digit catches with 18 receptions for 305 yards and three touchdowns. Josh Magee and D.J. Vinson also have double digit receptions.

The Trojans leading rusher is Brandon Burks who has 236 yards and three touchdowns through three games. Quarterback Brandon Silvers has completed 55-of-79 attempts (69.6%) for 575 yards and three touchdowns with no interceptions. Teddy Ruben is the only Trojan with double-digit receptions on the team with 12 for 146 yards and two touchdowns. Next in line with eight catches is John Johnson for 105 yards.

Turnovers will probably be the deciding factor in the game. While the Jaguars did not force any turnovers by the Wolfpack, they have forced five so far this season. However the Jags have turned the ball over nine times this season with five interceptions and four lost fumbles. Meanwhile the Trojans have forced only one turnover defensively and lost a total of three turnovers: two fumbles and an interception.

Additionally, Troy has announced a “Black Out” for the 6pm game on Saturday on ESPN3. Hopefully the Jaguars will rebound and start their Sun Belt schedule 1-0 and upset Neil Brown’s conference opener.

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