For the second week in a row, Oklahoma State (1-0) will be the first Big 12 team to open this week’s slate of games as the Cowboys travel to Mobile, Alabama to take on the University of South Alabama Jaguars (0-1) on Friday night. The Pokes come into this matchup looking for their first road win of the 2017 season and hope to build off the momentum they created in winning their home opener against in-state foe Tulsa, 59-24.
This game represents the first meeting between these two teams, which should not come as much of a surprise since South Alabama, which calls the Sun Belt Conference home, has a football program that is not yet even a decade old. That fact shouldn’t invite the Cowboys to sleep on their first road opponent, though, who upset Mississippi State last year 21-20 as a 28 point underdog.
On offense, the Jaguars return quarterback Cole Garvin, who started two games a season ago. Garvin is capable as a runner and is a streaky passer, but the real worry for the OSU defense will probably be whoever is in the backfield alongside the QB. Sophomore running back Tra Minter rushed for 9.5 yards per carry last week against Ole Miss and junior Xavier Johnson, the more heralded back, was the team’s leading rusher in 2016.
South Alabama relies upon its ground game and its – admittedly inconsistent – ability to make big plays through the air in order to put up points against opposing defenses. The Jaguars utilize a physicality that should provide somewhat of a gauge for how well the Oklahoma State defense can handle a power spread attack.
Last week the Jaguars managed to put 27 points on Ole Miss in a 47-27 losing effort.
DATE & TIME: FRI, SEP 8 at 7:00 PM CT
WHERE: Ladd-Peebles Stadium (Mobile, AL)
FORECAST: Sunny, Low 80s
TV: ESPN 2
STREAM: Watch ESPN
BETTING LINE: OSU -28
The strength of the Cowboys’ defense is in the front seven and if the defensive line can win the battle in the trenches against a South Alabama offensive line that is relatively inexperienced, players like Chad Whitener should have a productive day. One improvement you would like to see from last week from the Cowboys is to generate a pass rush. The Pokes had a hard time getting to the quarterback last week, but Tulsa fields a very good offensive line. This week, they need to show that the pass rush isn’t a concern moving forward.
On the other side of the ball, there could be problems for the Cowboys’ offense if they have trouble getting Justice Hill and J.D. King off to a good start running the ball. Even though Ole Miss was able to put up 47 points on the USA defense last week, they managed an unimpressive 102 yards rushing on the day. If Oklahoma State can repeat the same kind of 332 yard rushing performance that it had against Tulsa, it will make their initial road test undoubtedly easier.
However, part of the reason Ole Miss didn’t have much production on the ground against South Alabama is because they were too busy throwing it. Quarterback Shea Patterson threw for 429 yards and four touchdowns against the Jaguars.
Coming off a week in which he averaged 12.6 yards per pass attempt, Mason Rudolph should have ample opportunities to make big plays offensively against a team in South Alabama that tends to give up big plays. Given the undoubted talent advantage that OSU has over South Alabama, the only way the Cowboys’ potent offense will likely be stopped in this game is if they stop themselves through penalties or turnovers.
KEYS TO THE GAME FOR OSU
Avoid Turnovers – South Alabama is the kind of team that will try to possess the ball and control the clock. Giving them turnovers will allow the Jaguars to keep this game close for more minutes than would Oklahoma State comfortable.
Score Early – Nothing can help to quiet an opposing crowd, especially one that came to watch their team play a Top-10 opponent, than success early in the game. The quicker OSU is able to get on the scoreboard, the less the crowd in Mobile will be a factor.
Stop the Run – USA is not a team that is built to consistently handle longer down-and-distance situations. If the Jaguars get behind the chains, they do not have an offense that can consistently pick up larger chunks of yardage.
Oklahoma State will be the highest ranked team that South Alabama has ever played, a bit of trivia that emphasizes the different levels of competition to which each of these teams is accustomed. Although Oklahoma State might start out slowly in their first road game of the season, the Cowboys’ ability to score quickly will begin to put this game out of reach for South Alabama, quite possibly as soon as halftime. OSU should be able to keep the game out of reach for the Jaguars as soon as they begin to make some big plays. USA might get a couple of scores in garbage time, but this will be a commanding win for Oklahoma State.