Photo | Scott Donaldson, courtesy of the University of South Alabama
Right up until the final two seconds it appeared South Alabama would be the next Sun Belt Conference giant killer last Saturday against UCLA in the Rose Bowl. Instead, the 15.5-point underdogs left Pasadena with a 32-31 loss, the result of a failed South Alabama fake field goal attempt on fourth down and a 24-yard Bruins field goal on the game’s last play.
What would have kept the Jaguars’ record unblemished and added another entry to the program’s top wins, instead resulted in a disappointing, what-might-have-been loss.
The Jags had stayed with the Pac-12 team throughout the game, holding the lead in the game for much of the time. In the final three minutes, the momentum changed — on a fourth-and-2 play at the UCLA 22-yard line, the Jags attempted a fake field goal, third-string quarterback Tanner McGee moving from holder to passer, but UCLA defensive end Carl Jones Jr. came off the edge unblocked and sacked McGee for an 11-yard loss with the Jags leading 31-29. The Bruins drove to the South Alabama 6 where Nicholas Barr-Mira booted a 24-yard field goal for the win.
“That was tough,” South Alabama head coach Kane Wommack said after the game. “We made a couple of mistakes there that just cost us and right there at the end we had a trick play on the field goal — it was fourth and 3 there, and we thought we needed to go up by two scores against a quarterback like this [UCLA’s Dorian Thompson-Robinson]. That kid is a phenomenal quarterback, he’s a gamer, and he’s been in those moments a lot and they’re an older team.
“They adjusted well and we thought we had them right there on the [fake] field goal; it would have been nice to get that one and then ice the game out. But we didn’t put ourselves in position in the plays prior to that moment to pull away from them and we had some opportunities to do that.”
On Monday, Wommack said if he had it to do over he probably would have kept the offense on the field and gone for the first down or touchdown instead of the fake field goal. The fake field goal play was something the team had worked on all week, he said, adding running back La’Damian Webb, who rushed for 124 yards against the Bruins, was “gassed” and had cramping issues in the second half that forced him off the field. Wommack also explained how the play was about to open up, but the UCLA defense came up with a big play.
“I think as I reflect on it, our offense was moving the ball,” Wommack said. “If La’Damian would have been able to come back in, and potentially he could have … I’m not sure one play off was enough rest for him since he was gassed, but as I reflect on that situation and the decision I made to go for the fake field goal as opposed to putting the ball in our offense’s hands, I would have liked to have seen what our offense could have done in that situation. That was a good learning situation. I went for one of two scenarios in my mind, and I would have liked to have seen how the other one would have played out.
“… Those are tough calls in tough situations, and I’m not saying that it was the wrong call by any means. Frankly, if we’d gotten the damn thing, everyone would be pretty fired up, but in that moment it’s a lesson to be learned; let’s keep our best players on the field and give our guys a chance to go win the game.”
The back-and-forth game saw UCLA take a 3-0 lead with a 38-yard field goal, but South Alabama countered with a Marco Lee 1-yard scoring run. UCLA added another field goal to trim the Jags’ lead to 7-6. Later, Diego Guajardo booted a 38-yard field goal that was followed by a Webb 9-yard scoring run and a 17-6 South Alabama lead. Thompson-Robinson threw a TD pass to Jake Bobo late in the second quarter to cut the Bruins’ deficit to 17-13 but that’s where the score stood at halftime.
UCLA came out and scored quickly in the third period and moved in front 20-17, then added a field goal to increase its lead to 23-17. But another 1-yard Lee scoring run put the Jags in front 24-23 and a Carter Bradley 4-yard scoring pass to Caullin Lacy made it 31-23 Jags. UCLA scored a touchdown in the fourth period but its two-point conversion try failed, leaving South Alabama in front 31-29. But after the failed fake field goal play, the Bruins covered 61 yards in less than three minutes, setting up the game-winning field goal.
The Jags are now 2-1 and entertain Louisiana Tech at Hancock Whitney Stadium Saturday at 6 p.m. UCLA improved to 3-0 and plays Colorado this week.
La. Tech final non-conference game for Jags
South Alabama will close out its September schedule of games as well as its non-conference slate for the season this Saturday when the Jaguars play host to Louisiana Tech at Hancock Whitney Stadium. Kickoff is set for 6 p.m. for the Jags’ second home game of the season following a pair of road games.
The Bulldogs enter the game with a 1-2 record, having lost on the road to Missouri (52-24) to open the season and last week at Clemson (48-20). Their win came at home against Stephen F. Austin (52-17).
The Conference USA member is also playing its final non-conference game of the year against the Jags. Louisiana Tech holds a 2-0 all-time record over South Alabama, winning 34-16 in Ruston in 2017 and following it the next year with a 30-26 victory in Mobile. The Jags are a 13.5-point favorite over Louisiana Tech in Saturday’s game.
This is a much deeper, more talented South Alabama team than Louisiana Tech has previously faced, and despite coming away with a 32-31 loss last week at UCLA, the Jags are playing with a good dose of confidence.
On offense, the Bulldogs are led by quarterback Parker McNeil who has completed 41 of 76 passes for 650 yards and six touchdowns. He has been intercepted three times. Matthew Downing has also gotten some work at quarterback, completing 21 of 38 passes for 197 yards, one TD and three interceptions.
Marquis Crosby is the Bulldogs’ leading rusher with 35 carries for 227 yards, three scores and a 6.5 yards per carry average. Griffin Hebert is the team’s top receiver with nine catches for 278 yards and two TDs. He is aided by Tre Harris (14 catches, 165 yards, two TDs) and Cyrus Allen (six catches, 152 yards, two TDs).
On defense, Louisiana Tech is led by Tyler Grubbs with 31 total tackles, including 19 solo stops. BeeJay Williamson has 18 total stops.
The game can be viewed on ESPN+.
Third-down conversions South Alabama successfully completed against UCLA last Saturday. The Jaguars were 9 of 14 for the game, including 6 of 8 in the first half alone. UCLA was 7 of 13 on third-down conversions. The Jags were 0 for 1 in fourth-down conversion tries against the Bruins, that coming on the fake field goal attempt. UCLA was 1 of 1. For the year, South Alabama is 20 of 44 on third-down conversions (45.4 percent), while the Jags’ opponents are 14 of 41 (34.1 percent). In fourth-down conversions on the season, the Jags are 1 of 3 (33.3 percent) while their opponents are 2 of 7 (28.5 percent).
Times the South Alabama offense has reached the red zone and not scored this season. Through three games, the Jags have scored 13 of the 15 times they have reached the red zone. Of those 13 scores, 11 have been touchdowns. South Alabama opponents have also scored all but two times they have reached the red zone — 10 of 12 times. However, the difference is the opponents have come away with a touchdown only half the time, six of 12.
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