Down 17-0, South Alabama saw victory on the horizon

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On Saturday, redshirt sophomore quarterback Dallas Davis made his starting debut like a veteran, leading South Alabama to a stunning road upset over Mississippi State, 21-20. It was their first-ever victory over an SEC opponent.

On Tuesday, the Jaguars achieved another first, earning three points in the Amway Coaches’ Poll. It’s the first time since becoming a full FBS member in 2012 that USA has been recognized in either the coaches’ or Associated Press polls.

Playing from behind is nothing new for the Jaguars or Davis.

“I always train like I’m behind, Davis said. I’ve been training with my quarterback coach off-campus since senior year of high school. I’ve always done more so whenever my name’s called I do what I need to do.”

Davis was 24-of-34 for 285 yards with two TD passes and no interceptions. His second touchdown, a strike to tight end Gerald Everett, came with just 57 ticks on the game clock and proved the decisive score.

Early on the Jaguars’ sideline felt they had a legitimate shot at the upset, even when they trailed 17-0 at the half.

“We got our first first-down, and we moved the ball on them. We were saying on the sidelines ‘We can do this’ and everybody was staying positive,” said Davis. “Even when we were down, nobody was pointing fingers. That’s huge at this level — actually at all levels. Because if you start pointing fingers, then the team’s not going to follow you and they’re not going to do what they need to do to win.”

South Alabama entered the game as four-touchdown underdogs, and the Bulldogs’ halftime lead had them on pace to better that margin. As late as the fourth quarter the Jags trailed, 20-7.

Tyreis Thomas drew USA to within seven points when he scored on a 4-yard TD run with 12:51 in the game. Gavin Patterson’s PAT brought the visitors within six.

When the Jags got the ball back 6:03 left on their own 29, Davis moved them downfield with a key 39-strike to Kevin Kutchera taking the Jags to MSU’s 34.

Five plays later, Davis, nominated for ASN’s FBS Payer of the Week, broke off a 19-yard run on third-and-3 with just under four minutes left. On the play, he faked a pitch right, tucked the ball away and headed vertically upfield to a space vacated by the over pursuant Bulldogs’ middle linebacker.

As Mississippi State defensive back Brandon Bryant zeroed in for a tackle, Davis leapt skyward, clearing Bryant, and continuing on his way to the Bulldogs’ eight. Four plays later the Jags had a touchdown and a 21-20 lead.

“It was kind of a spur of the moment thing. I could see that he was coming down at my ankles, and I went over him instead of lowering my shoulder,” said Davis.

When MSU kicker Westin Graves drilled the left upright with a 28-yard field goal in the final seconds, the Jags’ monumental upset was in hand. It was easily the greatest in the short history of USA football, which began in 2009 and graduated to the FBS and Sun Belt Conference in 2012.

Following the hallmark victory, the team laid the foundation for a tradition befitting Tuscaloosa, not Mobile.

“When we came back there was a ton of people waiting at our field house. I’d never seen anything like that happening here,” said Davis. “We got in around 7 p.m. We started getting Snapchats from other people saying, ‘Hey, we’re waiting on you guys.’ Hopefully we can keep that tradition going. That’s going to be our goal.”

The Jaguars host Sun Belt rival Georgia Southern this week, which might seem like a respite. But they are again double-digit underdogs. Georgia Southern plays a rush-heavy style of bruising football. They won their opener 54-0 over FCS Savannah State, amassing 420 yards on the ground, and beat USA 55-17 last season.

“Everybody knows they are the most physical team in our conference and we have a lot of good teams in our conference,” said Davis. “We can’t think, ‘Oh, we beat Mississippi State.’ We’ve got to forget about that win and move on, because we’ve got a tough game Saturday.”

Photo courtesy Bobby McDuffie/South Alabama Athletic Media Relations
Tom Flynn

Tom Flynn

Tom Flynn is a freelance writer based in Baltimore.