In the first Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) matchup of the 2020 football season, the Southern Miss Golden Eagles lost to the South Alabama Jaguars 32-21.
Three plays into the first possession of the game, South Alabama quarterback Desmond Trotter connected with receiver Jalen Tolbert, who ran past Southern Miss’ secondary for a 73-yard touchdown. The Jaguars never gave up the lead from there to secure their first road win since 2017.
Trotter and the Jaguars rolled through Southern Miss’ secondary. In the first quarter, South Alabama set the tone for the game with 162 passing yards. Trotter capped off the quarter throwing a deep ball to receiver Jalen Wayne for a 49-yard gain, which set up a short rushing touchdown to put the team up 13-0.
Trotter finished the game completing 16 of 27 attempts for 299 yards and two passing touchdowns. His top target was Jalen Tolbert, who finished the game with six receptions, 169 yards and two touchdowns.
“We were out of position[,] and he [Tolbert] just wanted it more than we did tonight[,] so we’re just going to have to come back and change our whole mindset come next week,” defensive back Malik Shorts said. Shorts led the team in tackles that night with eleven in total.
Despite the defensive woes, Southern Miss moved the ball on offense for a total of 409 yards. Quarterback Jack Abraham finished the game completing 22 of 32 attempts for 314 yards. Tim Jones stood out as the top target, gathering six catches for 139 yards. Head Coach Jay Hopson said the duo was a bright spot in what was otherwise a disappointing game for the team.
“They were definitely the highlight of the game,” Hopson said. “There’s no doubt about that.”
After a slow start marked by consecutive penalties, the offense got rolling after gaining possession from an interception by defensive back Tyler Barnes early in the second quarter. The turnover led to an eight-play, 79-yard drive. Running back Don Ragsdale spun into the endzone on a two-yard run to score Southern Miss’ first touchdown of the year.
Southern Miss carried the momentum on its next offensive possession, racking up a 13 play drive to the Jaguars’ eight-yard line, but was forced to settle for a field goal. The offense struggled with converting red zone opportunities into touchdowns, settling for three field-goal attempts and turning the ball over on downs one time.
“We just didn’t go out there and execute well enough,” Abraham said. “I really think that’s what it comes down to and we had too many missed assignments. It’s just something we’ve got to come back and really work on this bye week.”
After a 52-yard touchdown pass from backup quarterback Chance Lovertich, Southern Miss found itself in a 16 point deficit early in the fourth quarter. On the following drive, tight end Naricuss Driver ran in a touchdown on a fourth and goal on the one to close up the score. However, the comeback efforts came too late, as South Alabama still finished the game on top to win the season opener.
Southern Miss now has a bye week. Coach Hopson says that they will use this time to try to fix mistakes made in the first game.
“We got to clean up our sloppiness,” Hopson said. “We got to clean up our alignments, our assignments, tackling, our execution. […] All we got to worry about now is just getting better. We can’t worry about nothing else.”
Abraham similarly said that the team should focus on fixing errors for the next game.
“I think the biggest thing for us to move forward and be a successful team is to use it as a learning lesson,” Abraham said. “Get in the film room and fix our mistakes, have that mindset of not letting it happen again.
Southern Miss will play next in a home game versus Louisiana Tech on Sep. 19. The game will be the first conference matchup of the year for the team, and, hopefully, their first win.