FAST START LEADS SOUTH FOOTBALL TO VICTORY OVER ARKANSAS STATE

MOBILE, Ala. – The University of South Alabama scored touchdowns on each of its first four possessions Saturday to earn a 31-13 football Homecoming football victory over Arkansas State at Hancock Whitney Stadium.

Jake Bentley completed 29-of-39 passes for 251 yards and four touchdowns, with Jalen Tolbert scoring twice while finishing with eight catches for 94 yards as the Jaguars improved to 5-3 overall and 2-3 in the Sun Belt Conference.  Terrion Avery carried 22 times for 113 yards while the trio of Jalen Wayne, Caullin Lacy and Lincoln Sefick each posted five receptions as well.

Quentin Wilfawn supplied 11 stops to pace the Jag defense, and Wy’Kevious Thomas was credited with six tackles as the unit finished with four takeaways and had eight individuals combine to record eight tackles behind the line of scrimmage.

Layne Hatcher threw for 186 yards after connecting on 19-of-37 attempts for the Red Wolves (1-7, 0-4 SBC), with Corey Rucker and Te’Vaila Hunt finishing with 67 and 46 yards receiving, respectively, on four catches.  The duo of Jarius Reimonenq and Jaden Harris shared game-high honors for A-State after recording 12 tackles apiece.

South Alabama 31, Arkansas State 13 (final stats)
South Alabama/Arkansas State photo gallery

GAME FACTS
-Tolbert caught touchdown passes of 13 and 30 yards from Bentley to give the Jaguars a 14-0 lead in the first 10 minutes.
-Bentley threw two more touchdown passes in the second quarter — hitting Avery from two yards out and Brandon Crum for a 14-yard score — as South led 28-7 at the half.
-The Red Wolves managed to hold the Jags to minus-five yards of total offense in the third quarter, but were only able to cut the deficit to 28-10 on a 32-yard Blake Grupe field goal capping their opening possession of the period.
-Grupe added another field goal, this time from 43 yards out, midway through the fourth quarter before Diego Guajardo’s 39-yard field goal closed out the scoring.
-The Jaguars finished with a 424-224 advantage in total offense, with 347 of those yards coming in the opening 30 minutes.
-With four sacks totaling 42 yards in losses, USA limited A-State to just 38 rushing yards on 26 attempts.

NOTES
-This was the Jags’ third straight win over the Red Wolves.
-South improved to 11-2 in Homecoming games in program history, which now includes victories in eight of nine such contests played in October.
-Not only did the Jaguars equal season-high totals in takeaways and sacks, it was the fewest yards surrendered by the unit this fall.
-It was the third time this season that USA has given up fewer than 100 yards on the ground, although it was the first occasion since the Jags defeated Alcorn State on Sept. 18.
-Tolbert became the first Jaguar with multiple receiving touchdowns in back-to-back outings dating back to when he accomplished the feat in the 2019 season finale and opening game the following fall in wins over A-State and Southern Miss.
-With 15 touchdown passes on the year, Bentley tied the mark on the school’s season record list in the category while becoming the fourth quarterback in program history to throw for 2,000 yards in a campaign.
-Not only was it a career-high tackle total for Wilfawn, it was the first time since the 2020 finale against Troy — when Riley Cole and A.J. DeShazor Jr. each made 10 stops — that a South defender has reached double digits in the category.
-DeShazor Jr. is now tied for fourth on the school’s all-time list with four fumble recoveries as well after recording the first of the Jags’ takeaways in the contest midway through the third quarter.
-Darrell Luter Jr. picked off passes in each of the final two quarters to become the first Jaguar to have two interceptions in a game since Travis Reed had a pair at Troy on Oct. 16, 2019.
-It was the first time in his career that Avery has gone over the 100-yard mark rushing, as he has run for 200 yards in the last two games after posting 199 yards on the ground in USA’s first six outings of the year combined.
-Both of Ke’Shun Brown’s tackles were behind the line — resulting in a loss of 12 yards — while Charles Coleman III was credited with a career-best 1½ sacks.
-Devin Rockette had the fourth interception of his career, and he broke up another pass to move into the top 10 all-time at South with 12 in his career.

THEY SAID IT
South Alabama head coach Kane Wommack
Opening statement: “I thought it was a tremendous first half in terms of our execution. I thought we did a poor job on our kickoff unit — we have to get better there — but outside of that, we really played with a lot of effort and energy. We executed at a high level. It was a good responsive victory to a week ago against Louisiana-Monroe where I didn’t think we played anywhere near the standard offensively, defensively, special teams. [Tonight] we looked fast on defense, played aggressively offensively and scored some points early. Now, it’s about how consistent can we be as a program. There’s more room to grow. We’re not as consistent as we are capable of being, so we’ve got to work. But the great teams play their best football at the end of the season and to be able to put back-to-back great wins and execution against our rival in Troy this week is a tremendous opportunity for our program.”
On the offense not doing much the second half and the defense picking them up: “I thought we played very hard and aggressive on defense the entire game. You look at the numbers and you can see that it was a dominating performance by our defense [allowing only] 242 yards total, giving up 38 yards rushing. They were 3-of-13 [on third down]. We stopped them in the red zone on fourth down. Obviously getting four takeaways on defense is huge and tremendous. Offensively, we did such a great job in the first half. I thought Arkansas State responded well in the second half. They competed their tails off, particularly their defense. I thought offensively, they did some challenging things that we had to continue to adjust to and we did. We’ve got to be more consistent though. When we can operate at such a high level at the beginning of the game, we need to do that in the third and fourth quarter as well.”
On picking up the program’s fifth win of the season, which hasn’t been done in a while: “There are two sides to that. We have to become so process oriented, because the standard and capability of this team is not five wins. It’s disappointing that it’s been so long since we’ve had five wins as a program, but at the same time we need to be process oriented. To me, we are not where we can be, but we’ve created an opportunity for this team to play our best ball at the end of the year and that is really exciting. You appreciate what you have, because at the end of the season there are a lot of teams sitting there that don’t get to compete or play their best football at the end of the year and they don’t have opportunities to better themselves in a bowl game and all the preparation that comes with that. We do have those things, but our process and consistency has to get better. This was a great win, but we need to move the dial forward in this program, and until we become a consistent football team, we will not achieve our goals.”

Senior QB Jake Bentley
On the first half: “We just came out with the mindset you have to have to go win a game, and that’s what we did. We hit our shots and just executed well. I’m really proud of the way the guys came out and took the fight to them.”
On open receivers: “That is a testament to [offensive coordinator] Coach [Major] Applewhite and the offensive coaches. They stay up here all night just for us, devoting a lot of their time to our success. That goes to show you how great of coaches they are, and to create a game plan like that was on point. Guys were open in the second half too, I just have to be better at giving them a chance and continuing to move the offense forward.”
On the play of the defense tonight: “I think after last week, they responded the way really good teams respond. I’m proud of them, just to see those guys come out with that mindset that we’re not going to allow this team to get a lot of yards on us and we’re going to make a stand for the offense, especially in the second half.”

Sophomore DL Charles Colemann III
On not giving up a touchdown and having four takeaways: “I was excited to see all of us running to the ball and bringing more effort than we had in the previous game. We had worked on that all week in practice. Our coaches put a lot of emphasis on running to the ball. All 11 hats should be in the camera when we cut on film. So, if all 11 hats are in the camera view when the camera stops, it’s a good job.”
On having something to prove after last week: “For our defense to be ranked the way we were ranked, there is no way a team should put up that much offense. It was basically just bad effort on our part.”

Junior ILB A.J. DeShazor Jr.
On the defensive effort and the takeaways: “It all adds up from practice and how we have practiced the last week. Our coaches had urgency in getting us mentally prepared for this game. That started with being aggressive, more physical and faster than the offense. I feel like we executed a lot of what we needed to on our defensive calls.”
On the quick offensive start and the impact it has on defense: “The offense got us 21 points and as a defense we should be able to hold our opponents under that. Our opponent shouldn’t score at all, really, with our swarm defense. It was a great performance all around. We need to clean up some things on kickoffs, but offensively and defensively, I felt like we did a great job.”

Junior WR Jalen Tolbert
On his performance: “The first half and first quarter, I did the concept we planned out to do and it worked, but overall I think I have to play better. I’m very hard on myself and I don’t think I played very well at all, so that is something I need to go into practice this week and correct.”
On the second half offense not being as productive: “I think we just got a little lackadaisical and started doing uncharacteristic things. That’s potentially the reason that we kicked a field goal instead of scoring more points at the end. That is something we have to go back to practice and correct heading into Troy week.”
On why he seems to have had success during his career against Arkansas State: “The coverage they play is mostly quarters with a little man with it. It just gives opportunities to make plays, and as a receiver that is what we thrive to do; we want that. I was lucky and blessed enough to come out on the top end of that.”

Arkansas State head coach Butch Jones
On the Arkansas State offense: “I think first of all when you look at the first half we ran 18 plays so we never go into a rhythm. It’s all about complementary football: offense, defense and special teams. Defensively, we gave up four touchdown drives over 370 yards in the first half. The offense didn’t have the ball, we couldn’t maintain the ball on third down. I don’t think there is any secret to it, but it’s a line of scrimmage game and obviously we got dominated at the line of scrimmage. We didn’t have time to throw the football, we couldn’t get open. This was the first game like that where we struggled like this. But there is no hiding behind it, we didn’t win up front.”
On the play of the Red Wolves’ defense in the second half: “When you look at the second half we gave up a total of 72 yards and three points. They were running the same plays with the same players. I thought we tackled better in space, we created some negative yardage football plays. The other thing about the second-half performance by the defense is we were able to get off the field on third down. That’s the defense I saw in training camp. I’m hoping we can build upon that and a lot of confidence was born tonight in the second half. But, when you just look at the whole game we did not play complimentary football. Again, it is still a line-of-scrimmage game and we didn’t win the lines of scrimmage. We did a better job on defense in the second half, but on offense we were never able to assert ourselves on the line of scrimmage.”

Up next: South will visit Troy on Saturday at 2:30 p.m. (CDT) in the annual “Battle For The Belt” in the first of three straight road games to open the final month of the regular season.

For more information about South Alabama athletics, check back with www.usajaguars.com, and follow the Jaguars at www.twitter.com/WeAreSouth_JAGS. Season tickets for all Jaguar athletic events can be purchased by calling (251) 461-1USA (1872).

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—USA—
 

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