South Alabama emerging as upset specialists this season
MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) South Alabama has been anything but boring this season.
The Jaguars have pulled off two of the year's biggest upsets, produced a pair of one-point victories and also managed to lose a couple of Sun Belt Conference games.
They opened the season with a 21-20 stunner over four-touchdown favorite Mississippi State, part of the mighty Southeastern Conference Western Division. Last weekend, the fourth-year FBS program in Mobile, Alabama, knocked off the first ranked team to play them at Ladd-Peebles Stadium, beating then-No. 19 San Diego State 42-24.
They don't seem the least bit surprised.
''We have extreme confidence no matter who we play this year,'' linebacker Roman Buchanan said. ''We know that if we come to play and both sides of the ball and special teams are clicking, that I don't care who you are, you're going to have a tough time.''
It's an impressive first five weeks for a program that started from scratch in 2009 and moved up to FBS in 2013. South Alabama (3-2) has an open date to savor the latest upset before facing Sun Belt rival Arkansas State on Oct. 15.
The upsets have come with two quarterbacks starting their first college games.
The opening win came after the Bulldogs' 28-yard field goal hit the upright in the final seconds. Sophomore Dallas Davis passed for 285 yards and jumped over a defender on his way to a big run in his starting debut.
With Davis injured, Marshall transfer Cole Garvin threw for 241 yards and three touchdowns in his first college game to help end San Diego State's 13-game winning streak.
South Alabama didn't leave this one to an opposing kicker. The Jaguars scored three fourth-quarter touchdowns to rally from a 28-24 deficit, including Devon Earl's fumble recovery and 80-yard return . It was only the second time South Alabama had faced a Top 25 team.
''There's certainly been a lot of talk about it, beating a ranked team for the first time,'' said coach Joey Jones, a former University of Alabama receiver and the program's only head coach. ''It'll be something that we'll remember for a long, long time, but reality is in coaching it's all about the next game.''
Sure, the two wins have garnered some national attention but Buchanan feels like the Jaguars are still trying to capture the student body and community in Alabama's coastal city.
The program has already made one bowl appearance, losing 33-28 to Bowling Green in the 2014 Camellia Bowl in Montgomery. No team had made it to a bowl quicker after rising to the FBS level.
''We're still trying to get there as a campus,'' Buchanan said. ''We have an off-campus stadium. As a university we're still trying to get there. We're kind of new at football. As far as the campus buying into it, we're getting there slowly but these wins are definitely helping.
''There has been more buzz about football than there has been probably ever. It's definitely picking up. It's very much improved.''
The upsets could give South Alabama more hope in the season's toughest road game, a visit to LSU on Nov. 19.
The Jaguars have certainly shown an ability to finish strong, outscoring opponents 54-21 in the fourth quarter. Jones said the team's closeness and confidence in each other have eased some of the stress in those tight games.
''They truly believe in each other and they're not going to break apart,'' he said. ''They've got a good bond. I'm just really proud of the way they've stuck together, because there's been two or three times this year where we could have fallen apart and broken, but we didn't.''