The College Bowl Season is upon us, and Pylon University is bringing the breakdowns on offense, defense, and special teams, along with the sport’s traditions and great moments. In this edition, it’s the Camellia Bowl preview, one of five bowl games that get things started Saturday.
WHAT: Raycom Media Camellia Bowl
WHEN: Saturday, December 20 – 9:15 p.m. EST (ESPN)
WHERE: Cramton Bowl – Montgomery, AL
After starting their season with a number of big wins, including a victory over Indiana, Bowling Green stumbled down the stretch with three straight setbacks, including a 51-17 loss to Northern Illinois in the MAC Championship. The Falcons now look to rebound against a South Alabama program still in its infancy. In only their sixth year of existence ‒ and third at the FBS level ‒ the Jaguars enter their first-ever bowl game having finished fourth in the Sun Belt and with some quality losses on their résumé. Head coach Joey Jones’s squad trailed at South Carolina by only one score at the half before the Gamecocks pulled away. The Jags also stormed back from a 15-point deficit against Navy only to lose when their tying two-point conversion failed with 39 seconds left.
When South Alabama Has the Football
The Jaguars are a run-heavy football team, averaging over 180 yards per game on the ground. A quartet of running backs ‒ seniors Kendall Houston and Jay Jones, junior Terrence Timmons and freshman Xavier Johnson ‒ shoulder the bulk with 1,844 yards between them, led by Houston’s 652. While the ground game placates the coaching staff, it is the man under center who has the NFL scouts excited. Senior Brandon Bridge has the size (6’5”, 235 pounds) and athleticism (4.6-second 40-yard dash) to turn heads. The Alcorn State transfer completed 52 percent of his throws for 1,648 yards and 14 touchdowns and 6 interceptions. While inaccurate at times (6 interceptions), Bridge brings serious trouble for defenses when he finds his rhythm. Just ask the Trojans of Troy:
You know, we haven’t had one of these in a while: That’s a “whoa” moment.
Linebacker Gabe Martin and defensive back Brian Sutton spearhead the Falcons defense. Martin’s 2013 season ended early due to a knee injury, but the redshirt junior returned to lead BGU with 110 tackles, including 16 for losses. Sutton, a senior, has 84 tackles to his credit this season. However, Bowling Green struggles to keep opponents off the scoreboard, ranking 109th with 34 points allowed per game.
When Bowling Green Has the Football
Sophomore James Knapke leads a balanced Falcons offense. The young quarterback completed 255 of 444 passes this season for 2,805 yards and 13 touchdowns against 12 interceptions. Junior Travis Greene and sophomore Fred Coppet share the rushing workload. Greene carried 160 times for 908 yards and 10 touchdowns, while Coppet logged 125 carries for 694 yards and six TDs.
Wide receiver Roger Lewis provides the most electrifying element of the Falcons’ offensive attack. The true freshman debuted with eight catches for 77 yards against Eastern Kentucky, and followed that with six catches for 140 yards and a TD against VMI. Week 3 against Indiana, Lewis became something of a household name by hauling in 16 passes for 149 yards, including the game-winning touchdown catch with seconds left in BGU’s upset win.
Lewis’s quickness and athleticism allow him to rack up YAC:
The freshman runs a quick curl route against underneath man coverage. After the catch a quick burst gets him past the linebacker, and the WR then jukes by the free safety for an easy 12-yard gain.
But Lewis also has the sheer speed to blow past a secondary over-the-top. Below, Kent State has their nickel defense on the field and they run Cover 2 man underneath. Lewis is the inside receiver in the trips formation to the right of the offense:
As the play begins, the linebacker runs underneath the WR with safety help deep:
Lewis blows by both the linebacker and the deep help:
The freshman pulls in the well-thrown pass and races away from the defense for an 82-yard score.
The Jaguars’ “bend but don’t break” defense will look to keep Lewis and company in check on Saturday. South Alabama gives up over 390 YPG to opposing offenses, but is 58th in the nation in PPG, conceding just over 28 points per contest. Seniors Terrell Brigham and Maleki Harris lead the unit. Brigham is an enforcer from the safety position, with a team-high 102 tackles on the season. Harris patrols the middle of the field for the Jaguars and ranks second on the team with 77 tackles. Another senior, defensive end Theo Rich, brings the pressure on opposing passers. Rich leads South Alabama with eight sacks, including this take-down of Troy’s Dontreal Pruitt:
Bridge (and his measurables) will certainly garner pre-draft attention, and his Jaguars teammates Wes Saxton (TE) and Shavarez Smith (WR) are also considered potential NFL players. Bowling Green’s D.J. Lynch, a solid pro prospect at the linebacker position, injured his right knee early in the season and will miss this contest.
These offenses light up the scoreboard Saturday night. In the end Knapke and Lewis will prove too much for the Jaguars.
Bowling Green 44, South Alabama 28
All video and images courtesy NFL.com and NFL Game Rewind.
Follow Mark on Twitter @MarkSchofield.