BTP: Coming into week four of the season, what has South Alabama done really well, and where are areas that they could use improvement?
DK: It's definitely been an up-and-down season so far for USA, sometimes even in the course of a single game. I think the strengths so far have been in pass protection and hitting deep passes. Even in the Nebraska game, where the Jaguars seemingly struggled in every facet, they protected the quarterback well and hurt the Cornhuskers on passes downfield. Improvement is definitely needed on special teams. The punting game has been inconsistent (and one punter was recently lost for the season), coverage has not been as good as years past, and kickoffs tend to be short. When faced with a strong opponent like NCSU, field position can be critical.
BTP: The Jags are 2-1, with the Pack being their last non-conference matchup. What are the expectations for South Alabama in the Sun Belt this year?
DK: Preseason Sun Belt expectations for South Alabama this year ranged from finishing second-to-last to challenging for a top three finish. The loss of over 30 seniors from 2014, coupled with the addition a strong freshman class and transfers from UAB, Texas Tech, Virginia Tech and the junior college ranks made predicting 2015 very difficult. After three games, and the steady improvement we've seen, it looks like a finish in the top half of the conference is very possible. Georgia Southern, Appalachian State, Louisiana-Lafayette and Arkansas State are considered the four top contenders, but South Alabama could very well force their way into that group. Injuries are the biggest factor for how the Jags finish as it is a young team with little proven depth.
BTP: What about the Wolfpack concerns the Jaguars the most?
DK: I think it is the NCSU running game and their defensive line that South Alabama must worry about the most . Not only does the Wolfoack have a strong group of backs, but Jacoby Brissett is a very mobile quarterback. Containing them all will be a challenge. On the other side of the ball, South Alabama will need to get some push against NC State's very talented defensive front. In two games the USA running attack was good to very good, but against Nebraska they got virtually nothing from the running game. If that happens again on Saturday it will mean a lot of three-and-outs, which will help the Wolfpack maintain the incredible TOP advantage they've enjoyed all season.
BTP: Last week, NC State played in front of a pretty rowdy Old Dominion crowd. What's the atmosphere going to be like at Ladd-Peebles Saturday Night? And for any Wolfpack fans traveling to Mobile to the game, do you have any recommendations for them as far as tailgating, or restaurants/bars to go to?
DK: Jag fans show well in tailgating. The parking lot at Ladd-Peebles will be heavily populated leading up to game time with a lot of friendly folks and good food and drink. Unfortunately for visitors, only season ticket holders and students can get parking passes, but there are shuttles set up to and from the stadium from nearby Bel Air Mall. Concessions are highly unpredictable, so it's advisable to get dinner before heading over. Downtown Mobile has some great spots to offer. Wentzels, which has several locations in the area, is pretty much a can't-miss for quality seafood.
BTP: Last time these two schools faced eachother was in 2012 in Raleigh, a game the Pack won 31-7. What's your prediction on how this game will go in Mobile?
DK: The Jaguars are fairly beat up team at this point, but also very confident and showing signs of meshing. I think they can keep it close in the early going and if they can make some plays and get momentum going in their direction in the second half, an upset is possible. That being said, NC State is a double-digit road favorite for a reason and for that reason I will decline giving any specific score predictions!
Many thanks to Doug for his great responses to our questions. Again, make sure to give him a follow @DougKonkel.