WHEN: Saturday, Nov. 16; 3:30p.m. EST
WHERE: Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium (Annapolis, Md.)
LAST SEASON: 2-11 (1-7 Sun Belt, last in Sun Belt; No bowl game)
CURRENT PRESEASON RANKING: Not ranked
SERIES HISTORY: First ever meeting
OFFENSE: South Alabama may be the youngest program in the FBS, but in a state stocked full of high major talent it makes sense that they have some skilled players on their roster. The key to the offense is Virginia transfer Ross Metheny who finished last year with over 2,100 yards passing and 12 touchdowns. Metheny needs to cut down on his turnovers, he threw 12 interceptions in 345 pass attempts last fall, but he has the physical ability and overall skill set to keep the Jaguars offense moving in the right direction.
There are plenty of pass catching options on the field too. South Alabama had seven players who made at least 17 receptions last year and five of those seven are back for another go around. What the passing attack needs is for one player to step up as the go to guy and stand out from the committee approach. The hope is that junior Jereme Jones who had 44 catches and 510 yards last year will develop into that guy by the time Sun Belt play begins.
One thing that the USA offense could really use is more of a running game. The Jaguars struggled to get anything going on the ground in 2012 and with last year's leading rusher Demtre Baker gone from the program for a rules violation there is clearly a need to be filled. The Jags have been recruiting heavily at the position and have four new bodies coming in this fall each of which could fight for significant playing time. Early money is on JUCO transfer Jay Jones to be the man who makes the best case.
Conclusion: Replacing the left side of the offensive line will be no easy task, but if the Jaguars can get better there then this offense has the talent to make some noise. One of the keys will be overcoming the fatigue which seemed to be a part of South Alabama's weekly routine last fall. Often the Jags would start strong before falling away in the second half of games. The Navy defense will not see a whole lot from this bunch that they can't handle, so a solid defensive performance should be expected.
DEFENSE: If experience counts for anything defensively then the Jaguars should actually be able to compete on defense in most games. With at least eight, and as many as ten, seniors starting on this unit, the South Alabama defense will at the very least know what to expect for FBS teams by this point. It was the resolute play of the defense which allowed USA to stick around in most of their games last fall, losing six by 14 or less and three by single digits.
This is an attacking defense with plenty of athleticism which likes to use a 3-4 base and multiple looks to confuse an offense. The main problem the Jaguars have entering the fall on this side of the ball is the loss of Andy Dalgleish at nose tackle. The plan is to move four game starter Randon Carnathan into the nose spot, but as the key to a good 3-4 revolves around that position there will be questions about the ability to stop the run until proven otherwise. Another change will see weak side linebacker Enrique Williams and his 105 tackles slid inside to use his athleticism to shut down the run in a sideline to sideline capacity.
While the front seven should be solid there are questions about the secondary. Last year this unit was low on interceptions, high on touchdowns, and gave up an abnormally high quarterback efficiency rating to other teams. Worse still was the 7.7 yards per attempt that opposition quarterbacks put together against South Alabama. If the defense is to be better then this unit is where the most improvement has to come.
Conclusion: This unit is surprisingly efficient, but was often the victim of bad field position and poor offensive output last fall. One year older should mean one year better, and if the secondary can improve even a little then the South Alabama defense could go from keeping the team in games to being a reason why they win them. Navy, however, is a class above the usual Sun Belt teams which USA will face and the triple option will be something the team has literally never seen before.
Other Factors: USA is athletic enough as a team to do well in the return game. T.J. Glover in particular has moves and speed to burn which he translated into averaging almost 24 yards per kickoff return. He is a definite threat to break one and needs to be kept under wraps. The kicking game takes a big hit with the loss of Michel Chapuseaux.
Conclusion: South Alabama is the definition of a team doing the right things while transitioning to the FBS. While the school has finally reached the 85 scholarship mark, the program is still new to identifying and recruiting the talent it takes to win at this level with any consistency. While Navy will have too much for the Jaguars this year it would have been very interesting to see what the two teams looked like in four years had this series kept the initial deal to play through 2016.
Preseason Preview: Navy vs. South Alabama
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