MOBILE, Ala. – Jake Bentley accounted for five scores while the University of South Alabama defense limited Georgia Southern to just 233 totals yards in picking up a 41-14 Sun Belt Conference football victory over the Eagles in a nationally-televised contest Thursday at Hancock Whitney Stadium.
The senior quarterback threw for three scores and ran for two more to guide an offense that totaled 545 yards, completing 24-of-31 attempts for 389 yards. Jalen Tolbert and Jalen Wayne finished the night with 174 and 117 yards, respectively, for the Jaguars (4-2, 1-2 Sun Belt), while the duo of Bryan Hill and Terrion Avery combined to rush for over 100 yards as well.
Quentin Wilfawn was credited with a team-high seven stops and Keith Gallmon Jr. contributed six, with Yam Banks recording two tackles for loss and CJ Rias adding a sack and an interception.
Logan Wright ran for 60 yards on 14 carries for the Eagles (2-5, 1-3 SBC), while Justin Birdsong led Georgia Southern defensively with seven tackles.
-Bentley led a 10-play, 84-yard march on the Jaguars’ opening possession, capping it with a 12-yard touchdown run, while Diego Guajardo tacked on a 42-yard field goal to put USA up 10-0 at the end of the first quarter.
-He added another rushing touchdown and threw for two more as the lead grew to 31-8 at the break.
-The Jags outgained the Eagles by a 306-106 margin in building their halftime advantage.
-Although GS controlled the ball for nearly 10 minutes in the third quarter, Bentley hit Lincoln Sefick late in the period to help grow the lead to 38-11.
-The teams traded field goals in the final 15 minutes to close out the scoring on the night.
-USA converted 7-of-12 times on third downs while scoring on five of six possessions that reached the red zone in the contest.
-This marked the first time that the Jaguars have defeated Georgia Southern in program history.
-South recorded the second-highest passing total in school history with 405 yards, while its total offense figure ranks fourth in the program’s record books.
-The 233 yards allowed were the fewest given up by the Jags this year as well as the seventh-lowest total recorded by an NCAA Football Bowl Subdivision opponent on the school’s all-time list.
-It was the first time since the Georgia State game on Nov. 21 a year ago that the Jaguars scored on their opening drive of the game.
-The Jags’ 31 points in the first half were the most they have scored before the break since posting 31 in a 45-0 defeat of Alabama A&M on Sept. 16, 2017; it was USA’s highest first-half point total against an NCAA FBS opponent since scoring 31 in a Sept. 7, 2013, victory at Tulane.
-Bentley set school records for both touchdowns accounted for and passing yards in a game.
-In recording the sixth 100-yard outing and 16th touchdown reception of his career, Tolbert tied a pair of school records with his effort.
-It’s the first time since the 2020 season opener — when he and Wayne accomplished the feat in a win at Southern Mississippi — that the Jaguars have had a pair of 100-yard receivers in the same contest.
-In addition to Wilfawn, Banks (six), Trey Kiser (six), Tré Young (five), Jamall Hickbottom (four), Rias (four) and Brock Higdon (three) all recorded career-high tackle totals.
-Banks has now been credited with two stops behind the line of scrimmage in back-to-back contests.
-It was the third time that Darrell Luter Jr. has broken up multiple passes in a game this fall.
-Hill’s 58-yard third-quarter rush that set up Sefcik’s score was the longest by a Jag running back since Xavier Johnson had a 70-yard carry in a win over Presbyterian on Nov. 19, 2016.
THEY SAID IT
South Alabama head coach Kane Wommack
Opening statement: “What a responsive victory for our team. You think about all the adversity that we’ve gone through. We’ve played so many tight games, came out with the first three. The next two, we had an opportunity to win against Louisiana. We beat them for 40 minutes and didn’t win the football game. We controlled and dominated the game at Texas State and had a let up and earned a loss with a lack of execution for an entire game. On a short week where we’re banged up, our guys are tired, their bodies are sore, they absolutely responded with an unbelievable urgency for this team. That was tremendous. We’ve talked about playing as hard as you can for as long as we can and that’s exactly what we did. I’m so proud of our guys.”
On what this win shows this group: “You have to be able to build off of momentum. You have a team here that has never had those situations before or done that. The guys in that locker room have never responded to adversity consistently and found ways to win, and that’s what this group is doing right now. It’s infectious, it’s contagious, it spreads through the rest of that sideline. The energy that we had and being able to bring that relentless effort for four quarters was really awesome to see. You have to continue to build off of it and correct the things that we did not do well enough. You take all that momentum though and carry it through the rest of your season and impose your work onto an opponent, and that’s exactly what we did tonight.”
On getting off to a hot start on both sides of the ball: “Tonight was the best we’ve played by far. You think about how we’ve opened games and drives on offense. The first time we were able to go down the field, drive the ball and score on the first series of the game. The defense continued to get three and outs. [Georgia Southern] made some adjustments on their side and we adjusted and took it right back from them in the second half. It was awesome to be able to do that against a very proud program in Georgia Southern. This program has been waiting to beat that team for a very long time and we got it done tonight.”
On quarterback Jake Bentley: “Here’s what’s so great about Jake Bentley. He hasn’t even been here a year in this program, but he is already starting to take that leadership role in games. A young man that can come into a program with his experience, fight his tail off and jump in the end zone for a touchdown; he has an opportunity to capture our team and that’s exactly what he’s doing. You need a quarterback to step up and take that leadership role, to be physical and step up and deliver the ball to our playmakers. That’s exactly what he did tonight. It was a phenomenal job by him.”
Senior QB Jake Bentley
On the win: “It felt great to be able to respond as a team the way we did coming off of last week. Today the guys just played in a way expecting to win, and that’s what we did.”
On his performance: “I just felt free. The game plan going in was to be aggressive, and we consistently did that all night. We just really attacked the whole night. It felt good as an offense to get rolling and put up some points.”
On scoring on the opening drive: “That’s just a testament to the guys up front and the receivers of being resilient. We have started slow [this year] so to be able to come out, move the ball and score was huge for us. I think it kind of gave everyone that relief; it was just a real big moment for us.”
Junior S Keith Gallmon Jr.
On if tonight was the best the defense has played: “I feel like we came out and we were able to be sound. Everybody was just locked in and focused on our assignment. I felt like we flew to the ball and played fast early. We were able to stop the run early and force them into situations that they didn’t want to be in.”
On getting a win after the two close losses: “It’s really good for our team. It builds momentum. We just didn’t take care of business last week and fell short. To come out on a short week and get this win, it’s big for this team.”
On finally beating Georgia Southern: “It feels great. Over the past couple of years, we’ve came up short. We’ve felt like we have been in position to win, but just came up short. Tonight, we were able to come out and impose our will on those guys and dominate on offense, defense and special teams.”
Junior WR Jalen Tolbert
On scoring first: “It was a good momentum burst for us. We haven’t really driven the ball down like that in the first series, so to be able to come out and do that set a statement for the game to go how we wanted it to go.”
On the win: “Something we emphasized all week was starting fast, finishing and playing a complete game. Previously we played some pretty good games, but didn’t start fast or didn’t finish. That was the emphasis all week – just finish. We could be 6-0 right now, and we came out today and showed what we can do.”
On beating Georgia Southern for the first time in program history: “It was awesome. I am happy for the whole team and everyone involved in the program.”
On quarterback Jake Bentley: “Jake puts a lot of pressure on himself. He goes back and we watch film and stresses things he could have done better. This week, we were just on his side as always and pumping him up – just making sure he knows he is what we need. He came out today and slung the ball around perfect. To be able to have a quarterback like Jake who can have some faults in a game and then come back and still be able to do what he did tonight was awesome and great for him.”
Junior LB Quentin Wilfawn
On getting four three and outs and a turnover the first five possessions on defense: “I think it’s huge to come out there and set the tone the way we did. To be able to come off of a tough loss last week and come out and start out like that, it’s big.”
On making a statement and building off tonight: “We just take this and roll. We have to keep preparing each week like it’s a new week. Each week it is a new team, we call them nameless, faceless opponents. We just have to work and get better as a team and get better each week.”
On overcoming the short week and injuries: “It’s always tough when you have a lot of guys out. But, this coaching staff preaches on the next man up. I’d say there’s no drop off in talent anywhere on the field. So, when we have a guy out, the next man knows he has to step up and we did a great job of that tonight.”
On if it was ever mentioned about never beating Georgia Southern: “It was mentioned. Kane [Wommack] has mentioned that he had this game circled for a little while and that he couldn’t talk about it until this week. But man, beating a team you have never beaten is exciting. It feels great.”
Georgia Southern head coach Kevin Whitley
On the result: “We didn’t come out and match their (South Alabama’s) intensity. We knew this was going to be a big game for them and we just didn’t match their intensity. They wanted it more and that’s sad to say, all the time you put into practice for a game and then you don’t come out and play, it’s unacceptable. Like I told our guys in the locker room, we’re going to find 22 guys that want to play football.”
On the decision to pull Justin Tomlin: “He was banged up and we were trying to get a spark. Cam finished the game and we’ll assess that during the open week. Hopefully we’ll have everybody healthy here in a couple of weeks and then we’ll put the best player on the field. We feel good with both of our quarterbacks in the game, we just have to execute. We have to block, tackle and focus on the fundamentals. We didn’t block, tackle or execute in any phase of the game. We just have to get better, that’s the bottom line.”
Up next: USA is back in action on Saturday, Oct. 23, when the Jaguars take on ULM at 6 p.m. (CDT) in Monroe.
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