JONESBORO -- When Buster Faulkner studied South Alabama's defensive film against the nation's second-ranked offense, he saw defensive backs who could keep up with college football's top wide receivers.
The offensive coordinator at Arkansas State University watched as those defensive backs pressed Oklahoma State in man coverage, batting down the first two passes of the game to force a punt. The next possession, an undersized defensive back steered his taller opponent out of the end zone on a fade pass, forcing a field goal.
ARKANSAS STATE at
WHEN Saturday, 4 p.m.
WHERE Ladd-Peebles Stadium, Mobile, Ala.
RECORDS Arkansas State 5-2, 4-0 Sun Belt; South Alabama 3-6, 2-3
Oklahoma State's offense, which now averages 45.3 points per game, was struggling to score.
"They're pressed up four across in man [coverage]," Faulkner said. "Oklahoma State's got one of the best receiving groups in the country, and they're running stride-for-stride with them."
The game broke open as South Alabama's offense went three-and-out on its first four drives, and the 44-7 final score drowned any sign the Jaguars defense had competed at all.
Since then, South Alabama (3-6, 2-3 Sun Belt) has given up 20 points per game in conference play, and its 4-2-5 defense forced four turnovers in a 19-8 victory over Troy the game after Troy's 24-21 victory over then-No. 25 LSU.
ASU's offense (40.4 points per game, fourth in the country) is the most effective offense South Alabama has faced since that loss to Oklahoma State, which has become somewhat of a blueprint for the Red Wolves coaching staff.
"They're going to make you be really patient," ASU Coach Blake Anderson said. "They're always going to have a guy deep in the middle of the field. They're going to take away the deep post ball. They're going to take away the deep verticals. They do a really good job of making you be methodical and patient, and that's something that we'll have to do a good job of.
"You've got to be willing to take the 3-, 4-yard pop. They just don't give up the explosive play very often, with the exception of a breakdown. Which, again, doesn't happen very much."
The breakdown against Oklahoma State happened on the Cowboys' third drive, when a receiver got inside a South Alabama cornerback and took a slant route 66 yards for a touchdown.
It was a similar start to the way the Louisiana-Lafayette defense played ASU in the Red Wolves' 47-3 victory Oct. 19.
Louisiana-Lafayette was forcing the ASU offense toward the middle of the field, and quarterback Justice Hansen was 1-of-4 passing for 7 yards at the start of the second quarter. The game broke open when wide receiver Justin McInnis busted free on a 44-yard inside screen for a touchdown with no defender covering him.
The ASU offense had rotated its receiver group -- which has five members with over 250 yards and 2 touchdowns -- until it finally found a combination that worked.
That depth, like Oklahoma State's, may become a factor against South Alabama.
"I think that helps us if it does become a man coverage game," Faulkner said, "because we're able to roll two, three guys out there at every position. So, they're always fresh. That's something that's in our mind, and we try to use that to our advantage."
South Alabama Coach Joey Jones fired offensive coordinator Bryant Vincent after the team's 1-3 start, and the offense is averaging 34.4 more yards per game under Richard Owens, who began the season as the offensive line coach.
The team has used two quarterbacks -- junior Dallas Davis (1,228 yards, 8 touchdowns, 5 interceptions) and junior Cole Garvin (777 yards, 4 touchdowns, 5 interceptions) -- all season, but ASU defensive coordinator Joe Cauthen expects the passing game to be secondary.
"I think that they want to run the football," Cauthen said. "If they need to throw it, they'll throw it. I expect Saturday that they'll take some shots at us because we play a lot of press. We should be ready for that. But as far as their balance of their offense is concerned, I wouldn't see any difference in approach than what they've done against anybody else lately."
ASU's defense has allowed 16.5 points per game in Sun Belt play, including its 37-21 victory over a New Mexico State team that was averaging 30.9 points per game.
Sports on 11/10/2017
Print Headline: Film reveals stout defense for Jaguars