The 2023 college football season is well underway, and the Sun Belt Conference (SBC) is looking fairly good after three games. There are currently three undefeated teams (James Madison, Georgia State, and Marshall), and all teams have secured at least one win! In Week 3, we witnessed both blowout victories and tightly-contested matches. Despite their eventual losses, teams like Georgia Southern (against Wisconsin) and Old Dominion (against Wake Forest) demonstrated resilience and competitiveness.
Yes, Georgia Southern lost 35-14, but they kept Wisconsin to only 14 points in three quarters. This included scores of 0-0 after the first quarter and 7-7 going into halftime! Unfortunately, a disastrous third quarter led to their defeat, as they conceded 21 points. Otherwise, it was actually a pretty shutdown game by the defense.
However, one game last week stood out the most above everyone else. The 1-1 South Alabama Jaguars (USA) managed to upset Mike Gundy’s 2-0 Oklahoma State Cowboys (OKST), who lost on their home turf nonetheless! This was also one of the blowouts I was talking about, with a final score of 33-7. OKST narrowly avoided a shutout thanks to a lone fourth-quarter touchdown! The Jaguars were previously ranked #75 by CBS Sports, while the Cowboys were #43. Let’s take a look at the amazing job done by these Jaguars!
Note: Abbreviations (USA, OKST) provided by ESPN.
The game started out pretty well for OKST. In three plays, they got two first downs and advanced to the USA 48-yard line. However, in opposing territory, three straight incompletions would result in the first punt of the game. The Jaguars didn’t really have a remarkable first drive, just managing to chip away with short-yardage plays. The most yards they got on a singular play was 17, and one 10-yard holding penalty on Oklahoma State benefited USA as well.
Photo Cred: Yahoo News (Lacy)
A Diego Guajardo 39-yard field goal was followed by a quick OKST punt. On the next South Alabama drive, they continued with short-yardage plays. However, QB Carter Bradley would then break free for a 39-yard TD pass to WR Caullin Lacy. This gave USA a 10-0 lead that they’d keep for the rest of the quarter.
Ten seconds into the quarter, Cowboys QB Alan Bowman was intercepted by CB Marquise Robinson. One play later, RB La’Damian Webb ran 17 yards for the touchdown, but USA failed their two-point conversion attempt. South Alabama’s lead now extended to 16-0. The next 12 minutes and 41 seconds would be uneventful, as each team just kept trading punts. One of the most notable misplays that occurred was an OKST 34-yard catch being wiped by a holding penalty. Bowman targeted WR Talyn Shettron deep to take his team to the USA 18-yard line, but it wasn’t to be.
As the quarter progressed, it seemed Bowman’s night was done, as QB Gunnar Gundy would take over. Gundy’s first drive was fruitless as well, with two incomplete passes and a sack ending it. There would only be a total of four first downs within those ~13 minutes, and Oklahoma State had three of them. Neither team managed to make it to the opponent’s territory. A Carter Bradley 11-yard run would be the Jaguars’ longest play during that span.
However, the tides would turn in the final 2:03 left. Bradley and Lacy connected again for a massive 57-yard touchdown to give USA a 23-0 lead. DL Jamie Sheriff would sack Gundy for 13 yards on a third-and-four to end OKST’s last drive of the half.
Photo Cred: ESPN (#4 Lacy)
Despite the start of a new quarter, there was more of the same end result during that ~13-minute stretch before the half. A total of 11 minutes and 37 seconds resulted in no points and three punts before any progress was made! Even then, the actual scoring occurred in the fourth quarter, so the whole third quarter was scoreless for both sides. 21 plays would result in 60 yards before the ball would be given away to the other side.
Each team’s first drive was marred by two penalties. USA had intentional grounding and false start penalties, while the Cowboys were called for two holding calls. South Alabama’s two drives did see a usage of three RBs, as Webb, Kentrel Bullock, and Marco Lee Jr. each had a run of 10 yards or more. Bradley even completed a 10-yard pass to Bullock. WR Javon Ivory had the Jaguars’ only other 10+ yardage play with a 17-yard catch. Gundy would have a 21-yard run for Oklahoma State.
A pivotal moment in the game occurred with a booming 53-yard Jack Martin punt. This forced OKST to begin their drive from their own four-yard line! They managed to keep advancing with two consecutive first downs. However, one of the holding penalties and an eight-yard sack pushed them back 17 yards, resulting in a fourth-and-27 punt. An illegal block penalty on South Alabama would put the ball on the USA 19-yard line. LB Collin Oliver had a 14-yard sack that dented any progress the Jaguars made, forcing another punt.
Photo Cred: Yahoo Sports (#12 Gundy)
The Oklahoma State TD Drive
This was a 17-play, 84-yard drive that lasted the remaining 3:23 in the third quarter and chipped off another 2:46 in the fourth. Play started at the OKST 16-yard line due to a 39-yard Martin punt. TE Josiah Johnson, Shettron, and RB Jaden Nixon would have plays of 11, 15, and 16 yards sustained the drive alive. WR Jaden Bray started the fourth with a 10-yard catch, reaching the USA 19-yard line. While they got to the USA 9-yard line for a first-and-goal, a delay of game penalty set them back five yards. Runs are ultimately what led to the score: Gundy had an eight-yard rush before RB Ollie Gordon II got to the 2-yard line with his four-yard run. Nixon’s two-yard rushing TD on fourth-and-goal netted the Cowboys their sole touchdown of the game.
The Rest of the Fourth Quarter
South Alabama would get two straight drives due to a muffed punt by WR/PR Brennan Presley. The first drive resulted in a punt after going nowhere, but the second one would result in a 42-yard Guajardo FG. It seemed to go nowhere again, with only five yards coming from the drive, and a false start penalty also set the drive back five yards. Two holding penalties would ruin new OKST QB Garret Rangel’s first drive, and USA coach Kane Wommack would decline one of them to force a punt.
Photo Cred: KAIT (#3 Webb)
Webb would have a fantastic 65-yard rushing touchdown to add to the Jaguars’ lead. This would be the final score of the game, which would lead to that 33-7 scoreline. Rangel’s second (and last) drive of the game started with an eight-yard completion to Bray to net a first down. Unfortunately for him, it would end with two incompletions and a Brock Higdon sack. The final 5:12 saw South Alabama running backs Lee and Bullock run the clock out on six consecutive plays. Lee would accumulate 16 yards on three rushes and Bullock got 19 on his three runs. The net gain would only be 28, though, due to a false start penalty in between.
Passing– USA QB Carter Bradley (10/16, 152 yds, two TDs), OKST QB Gunnar Gundy (9/18, 64 yds)
Rushing– USA RB La’Damian Webb (18 carries, 151 yds, two TDs), OKST RB Elijah Collins (nine carries, 31 yards)
Receiving– USA WR Caullin Lacy (five receptions, 104 yds, two TDs), OKST TE Jaden Bray (five receptions, 42 yards)
USA– LB James Miller (seven tackles), DL Brock Higdon (four tackles, two sacks, two tackles-for-loss), CB Marquise Robinson (two tackles, one interception).
OKST– LB Collin Oliver (10 tackles, one sack, one TFL, one pass defended).
Notable Special Teams
USA– The Jaguars only had one kick return and three punt returns that went nowhere. Guajardo was perfect on his two field goals and three extra points, adding nine of his team’s points. Martin had the noteworthy 53-yard punt and managed to land three of his punts inside the 20-yard line. Of course, the biggest play was the fumble recovery of the muffed punt, which was made by long snapper Travis Drosos.
OKST– The Cowboys only had two kick returns for 42 yards. Their lone punt return was muffed. Oklahoma State never put themselves in a position to go for FGs, hence K Alex Hale’s only point of the game coming from an extra point. There were two punters used, with Hudson Kaak punting the first time and Wes Pahl handling the eight other punts. Both managed one punt inside the 20, and Pahl also had a 53-yard punt as well.
Current Outlook and Next Games
a) South Alabama sits in first place in the West Division of the Sun Belt Conference. They have a 2-1 record with this win. CBS Sports gave them a boost of 25 ranks, so USA now sits at #55. Their next opponent will be the Central Michigan Chippewas on Saturday, September 23rd at 4:00 PM. It will be a home game that takes place in Mobile, AL at the Hancock Whitney Stadium, and will be broadcast on ESPN+.
b) Oklahoma State currently is in ninth place in the Big 12, with the loss pinning them at 2-1. CBS Sports had them drop 29 ranks to #72. They will play Iowa State away on Saturday, September 23rd at 3:00 PM. The game will take place at Jack Trice Stadium in Ames, IA, and can be viewed on FS1.