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NC State vs. South Alabama preview: Joey Jones and the Jaguars got themselves a stew goin'

Bruce Thorson-USA TODAY Sports

South Alabama not only started a football program from scratch a half dozen years ago, it did so with the intention to move up to FBS as fast as it could feasibly be done. That might sound like a daunting task, but USA head coach Joey Jones has done a fantastic job of incrementally leveling up his roster, putting the Jaguars in position to be a decent FBS program almost immediately.

In 2014 the Jaguars earned a bowl bid in just their second full season of FBS membership; it took five years from the team's first-ever game, way back in 2009, when they were warming up against teams at the lowest rungs of college football, for them to get to the post-season. Nobody's done it faster.

The Jaguars finished 5-3 in the Sun Belt last season, and handled App State--another team that recently climbed the ladder to FBS--by four scores. The Jags also handled in-state conference foe Troy by two touchdowns.

Jones' recipe is not exactly new, but there is a gift in deft roster management. There's also plain old good fortune. When plans for USA's football program were hatched, nobody would have figured that Alabama-Birmingham's program would go up in smoke, but that's exactly what transpired, and perhaps nobody's benefited more than the Jaguars.

There are a half dozen UAB transfers on this South Alabama team, including the Jags' leading receiver (TE Gerald Everett), their starting quarterback, a starting offensive lineman, and a starting linebacker. Jones also has been more than willing to absorb the tattered and otherwise hopeless remains of Nick Saban's ruthless business empire.

Those additions paid fast dividends, and when you add in a recruiting strategy that focuses on some in-state high school powers (i.e., Hoover High School) while filling gaps with a dash of junior college talent, you got yourself a viable football team.

USA Offense Off. S&P+ national rank Yds/Play
(national rank)
(national rank)
Yds/Pass Att.
(national rank)
2015 ???**
6.0 (55) 4.8 (59) 7.2 (68)
2014 89 5.2 (101) 4.3 (64) 6.2 (105)

(**Football Outsiders' S&P+ rankings for 2015 are absent at the moment.)

Quarterback Cody Clements (favorite NFL team: Seattle; favorite player: Russell Wilson) spent one season spinnin' it for UAB before circumstances forced his transfer, and while it's early in the year still, he seems like a clear upgrade over what South Alabama had at this position in 2014.

Clements completed two-thirds of his throws, averaged 8.1 yards per attempt, and had 14 touchdown passes against seven INTs at UAB. He averaged an interception for every 39 attempts or so, which ain't terrible. He's got a higher workload at USA, though, which so far is costing him some efficiency. His debut against Gardner-Webb was sloppy, and he's struggled to hit his receivers at a high rate.

Still, he's been more efficient--easily--than last year's starter for USA which tells you something. And we can cut dude some slack--he did have to play on the road at Nebraska, after all, and he had zero run support in that contest.

Clements is more in the statuesque slow-man quarterback-person mold than the Russell Wilson mold, which can work in NC State's favor. That puts more extensive pressure in the running backs, as we learned the hard way during [GLENNON MEMORIES REDACTED].

South Alabama had no trouble running on Gardner-Webb or San Diego State, but averaged under a yard per carry against Nebraska, the Jags' lone power-five opponent to date. The Jaguars do not have a Ray Lawry, and they are far less likely to pin their hopes on the ground game. Most likely, this one's gonna be left up to Clements.

USA Defense Def. S&P+ national rank Yds Allowed/Play
(national rank)
Yds Allowed/Rush
(national rank)
Yds Allowed/Pass Att.
(national rank)
2015 ???**
5.4 (74) 4.5 (90) 6.8 (70)
2014 57 5.6 (68) 4.5 (80) 7.2 (78)

(**Football Outsiders' S&P+ rankings for 2015 are absent at the moment.)

Nebraska ran for 256 on USA and averaged seven yards per carry, while putting up more modest numbers against Miami (153; 4.8 YPC) and BYU (126; 3.4 YPC). NC State is actually more committed to the run game than Nebraska (we live in a strange world now), which is not to say that similar success is a guarantee, but this is a defensive front that can (and should) be had.

For the Wolfpack, the plan shouldn't be altered much, if at all--work to establish the running game between the tackles and then go from there. South Alabama shouldn't be able to frustrate State's rushing attack consistently, but if the Jags do manage that, the Pack may have a game on its hands for the first time all season.