College Football is officially back. Amid the postponements of several conference football seasons, college football still makes its way to the national spotlight. The first game between FBS opponents in 2020 will be the South Alabama Jaguars taking on the Southern Mississippi Golden Eagles.
A matchup like this usually would not get the attention of many college football fans. However, this game will be featured on the CBS Sports Network, and it will have more eyes watching than usual.
Here is the preview into the South Alabama-Southern Mississippi game slated for Thursday evening
Southern Mississippi’s offense vs South Alabama’s defense
Southern Mississippi’s offense: Picking up the rushing attack
The Golden Eagles averaged 26.6 points per game last season. Their offense struggled mightily on the ground. The Golden Eagles finished 121st in the nation in rushing offense.
Their lackluster offense was not from a lack of rushing attempts. They ran the ball 33.2 times a game for 117.8 yards. Southern Mississippi rushed the ball for an average 3.6 yards a game.
Going into the season opener, they will be without two of their three leading rushers from last year. De’Michael Harris signed with the Indianapolis Colts and Steven Anderson will be opting out of this season. This leaves running back, Kevin Perkins, to lead the backfield for the Golden Eagles. He will be the most-experienced back and will look to capitalize on his 547 rushing yards from a season ago.
Southern Mississippi’s passing game was a bright spot in a stagnant offense. Returning quarterback Jack Abraham struggled to limit turnovers. He finished the 2019 season with 19 19 touchdowns and 15 interceptions. However, he was very accurate completing 67.9% of his passes with nearly 3,500 passing yards.
Expectations are high for Abraham. He was voted Conference USA’s top preseason quarterback, and he will be the focal point of the Golden Eagles’ offense in 2020.
South Alabama Defense: Fixing issues against the run
Despite Southern Mississippi’s porous rushing attack, South Alabama struggles containing the run. South Alabama’s rushing defense was 98th in the nation last season, allowing 192.2 yards per game.
If Southern Mississippi remains persistent on running the ball like they were in 2019, they might be able to break out a big run against South Alabama’s defense.
However, the Jaguars passing defense has found much greater success. They were 48th in passing yards allowed last season, yielding a mere 216.6 yards a game. They will face a quarterback who struggled with turnovers, and if their 2019 season passing defense success replicates itself, they should be able to shut down the conference’s top quarterback.
South Alabama’s offense vs Southern Mississippi’s defense
Unlike Southern Mississippi, South Alabama thrives on the run game. In 2019, South Alabama finished 54th in the nation in rushing offense with 171.4 yards per game.
However, they lost their 1,000-yard rusher, Tra Minter. Minter was at the focal point of the Jaguars’ offense. And now, they will have to rely on Jared Wilson and Carlos Davis. Each ball carrier finished with under 300 rushing yards last season. The question remains if they can replicate Minter’s season or if South Alabama will take a step back on the ground.
South Alabama’s offensive line is still stout and should leave wide open holes for Wilson and Davis. It will be a tough first matchup for the two running backs as they face a defense that ranked 18th in the nation against the run last season.
Quarterback Desmond Trotter will take over as the clear starting quarterback for the Jaguars. In 2019, he took over mid-season for Cephus Johnson. The Jaguars do not rely heavily on the passing game. They threw the ball 23.5 times per game while running the ball an average of 43 times last season.
South Mississippi Defense: Slowing the ground and pound down
In 2019, Southern Mississippi ranked top-20 in rushing yards allowed per game. Their lethal run defense will face an early test against a South Alabama team that relies heavily on the run game. If Southern Mississippi can force South Alabama to pass the ball, they will be in a very favorable position to dominate the game.
Their secondary will look to boost their rankings as they ranked 82nd in passing yards allowed with 236.7 per game. If Southern Mississippi’s secondary can take the next step, the Golden Eagles might have one of the best defenses in Conference USA.
It is the first game for both teams after the most bizarre offseason. Both teams will be rusty, and it will take all of the first half for them to get their gears going.
Once they pick up full speed and the rust shakes off, the defenses will dominate the game. South Alabama will struggle to replace the success of Tra Minter. Southern Mississippi will be all over their run game.
Also, Southern Mississippi’s offense will struggle to find any success. The team’s run game will struggle, and it will force quarterback Jack Abraham in obvious passing situations. This is not ideal for a quarterback who has struggled turning the ball over.
This will be a low-scoring game dominated by the defenses with Southern Mississippi coming out on top.