Photos by: Austin Lindsey
South Alabama beat Southern Miss in its season-opener for the second consecutive year, spoiling Head Coach Will Hall’s debut with a 31-7 victory.
Hall’s first game did not go to plan, with Southern Miss turning the ball over five times and allowing 31 unanswered points. Hall said the team executed poorly on offense and took the blame.
“I’ve been around football for a long time,” Hall said. “I’ve been a part of 11 championship teams and that’s probably the worst offensive performance I’ve ever been a part of. That’s humiliating; it’s on me.”
While Southern Miss had 159 rushing yards, it averaged less than three yards per attempt and its passing game never materialized, with quarterback Trey Lowe III and receivers struggling in the game. Lowe threw for 13 of 29 for 133 yards and two interceptions.
“When we threw it to the right guy, we dropped it. When we had people wide open, we didn’t read it right. We had guys miss signals and bust routes,” Hall said. “Trey made some errant throws and some bad reads.”
While the offense struggled, Hall said the defense battled throughout the match, outside of allowing a few deep passes.
“I really liked the fight that we had in the end,” safety Malik Shorts said. “We didn’t give up. But really, [we needed to] cancel out those points so we can have a ball game to give our offense a chance.”
While the offense never found a consistent flow, the defense started strong, limiting South Alabama to 17 yards in the first quarter and holding quarterback Jake Bentley to eight yards.
“I thought there were only a few times defensively that we were out of position,” Hall said. “I thought we played hard and took some major steps to play good defense.”
Southern Miss capitalized on its defensive pressure, drawing the first score on a quarterback sneak by Lowe at the end of the first quarter.
Hall used Lowe heavily in the rushing game, with 19 carries, tying Frank Gore Jr. for the most in the game. The game started physically, with Lowe absorbing hard hits and losing his helmet twice in the first quarter.
Early in the second quarter, the Jaguars kickstarted as they found connections in the passing game, targeting receiver Jalen Tolbert for a gain of 17 yards and then a 49-yard play. Bentley then completed a short one-yard pass to his tight end Trent Tyre to tie the game 7-7.
Southern Miss failed to contain Tolbert, who ended the night with five catches for 168 yards. Tolbert similarly gave the Golden Eagles a headache in its previous matchup last season with 169 yards and two touchdowns.
“Tolbert is an athlete,” Shorts said. “He got what he had and he wanted it more than we did.”
The Jaguars continued its momentum by forcing Camron Harrell to fumble on the kickoff return, giving the team field position near the red zone. South Alabama then took a 14-7 lead on a five-yard touchdown from Bentley to Kareem Walker.
Bentley continued to target Tolbert at the start of the third quarter with a 27-yard completion, which led to a quarterback sneak touchdown.
After starting zero of two, Bentley found a rhythm, throwing 14 consecutive completions and finishing the night with 17 of 22 for 269 yards and two touchdowns.
Southern Miss gained traction in the second half but fumbled in the red zone on two consecutive drives, one being a center to quarterback exchange, and the next on a run from Darius Maberry.
“The turnovers in the red zone were killer,” Lowe said. “We weren’t giving ourselves the opportunity with turnovers.”
Lowe threw an interception to Shawn Steele II near the end of the first half and ended the game with a pick-six that gave South Alabama its final 31-7 lead.
“We’ve got a long way to go,” Hall said. “We knew that tonight going in. As we build this program back, we’ll keep digging and fighting.”
Shorts and Lowe both said they will start working after the game to watch tape and make corrections as the team moves onto its next home matchup on Sept. 11 against Grambling State.