2014 USA Preview: What You Need To Know
South Alabama TE Wes Saxton
Preview 2014 - What You Need To Know About South Alabama (Getty Images)
What You Need To Know...
South Alabama Preview
What You Need To Know About The Offense: The offense was consistent, cranking out 30 points or more in eight games, going 6-2 when it did. The running game was solid – helped by the running of former starting QB Ross Metheny – and the passing attack was efficient enough to get by. Now the big question mark is at quarterback, where Brandon Bridge appears to be the next man up unless USF transfer Matt Floyd comes in and shines right away. The receiving corps should be among the best in the Sun Belt, and tight end Wes Saxton should be an all-star. The ground game will still need the quarterback to get moving, but the running backs are in place to work behind a fantastic line led by all-star tackles Ucambre Williams and Chris May.
What You Need To Know About The Defense: It got better as last season went on, allowing 17 points or fewer in four of the final five games. One of the Sun Belt’s best defenses returns loaded with eight starters back highlighted by a terrific secondary. The pass rush will be the question mark after losing Romelle Jones and Alex Page, but the coaching staff knows how to get defenders to the quarterback. The run defense will be solid and the defensive backfield should be dominant at times with five starters returning, depending on the alignment.
Players You Need To Know
1. TE Wes Saxton, Jr.
While he might not have been the team’s most dangerous receiver last season, he was one of the most reliable tying for the team lead with 50 catches for 635 yards. However, he didn’t get into the end zone. The 6-4, 240-pound veteran came up with ten catches for 89 yards against Texas State and showed he could stretch the field a little bit as a midrange target, but for the most part he was known mostly for being fantastic chain-mover. While he can block, he’s best as a big wide receiver.
2. OT Ucambre Williams, Jr.
A bit of a surprise, he turned into an Second Team All-Sun Belt blocker as the mainstay at left tackle. The team’s most efficient and effective lineman, he was terrific in pass protection and a dominant run blocker at times – when he was in a groove, the team kept working behind him. At 6-3 and 290 pounds he has decent size, but he’s not massive. More athletic than brutish, he didn’t give up a sack all season long.
3. OT Chris May, Soph.
He took his lumps in his first year at left tackle, but he moved over to the right side and had a terrific season. The 6-5, 290-pounder is growing into his frame and becoming more of a mauler. The athleticism is there, and the consistency followed earning First Team All-Sun Belt honors with a team-leading 63 knockdown blocks.
4. WR Shavarez Smith, Jr.
Smith tied for the team lead in receptions with 50, but he was the big play target averaging 18.8 yards per catch with 940 yards on the season and six scores, highlighted by a 10-grab, 194-yard, one score day against Georgia State. Red hot late in the season, he scored four touchdowns over a three game November stretch, but he was consistently decent throughout catching at least three balls in every game but one. At 6-1 and 200 pounds, the former JUCO transfer has excellent size to go along with his deep speed at the Z. Expect all-star honors for one of the Sun Belt’s most dangerous targets.
5. LB Maleki Harris, Jr.
At only 6-1 and 210 pounds he’s built more like a safety than a strongside linebacker, but he’s a big producer and playmaker no matter what his role is generating 63 tackles with 2.5 sacks, 8.5 tackles for loss, with a pick and seven broken up passes. Very active with the quickness to play in the secondary if he had to, he’s great in the open field but he’s better at helping out and finishing the job. Expect all-star honors as, potentially, the team’s leading tackler.
6. RB Jay Jones, Jr.
The main man for the running game, at least the main running back, the 5-9, 190-pound junior earned honorable mention All-Sun Belt honors with a team-leading 737 yards and five touchdowns to go along with 18 catches for 135 yards. The compact and speedy 5-9, 190-pounder wasn’t a workhorse, and he didn’t do too much around the goal line, but he started to really rock late in the year with 102 yards and two scores against Georgia State before finishing up with 105 yards in the win over Louisiana-Lafayette. A fantastic JUCO runner for Northwestern Mississippi CC, he was originally wanted by Ole Miss and Mississippi State, but USA got him.
7. WR Jeremé Jones, Jr.
While he’s not all that big at just 5-8 and 165 pounds, he’s lightning quick and he’s one of the team’s most dangerous players when he gets on the move. A 45-catch, seven-score receiver as a freshman, he followed it up with 40 grabs for 457 yards and three scores as a steady part of the passing game. When he gets into the open field, look out.
8. FS Terrell Brigham, Jr.
The team’s second-leading tackler, the 6-0, 190-pound free safety made 65 stops with two broken up passes. He didn’t do enough against the pass, but he came up with 11 tackles against Arkansas State and was one of the team’s best open-field hitters. A trusted veteran, he came up with 71 tackles two years ago with two picks, and with his versatility to play either safety spot, and with his range, he should be in for 70+ tackles.
9. PK Aleem Sunanon, Soph.
He got the job done. While he doesn’t have the biggest leg, he has range in the mid-40s nailing a 45-yard shot against ULM and a 46-yarder against Tulane. After missing his first two in the loss to Southern Utah, he went on to connect on 18 of his last 21 attempts including his final 12. For a team that had so many close calls and so many tight battles, he’s one of the most valuable players.
10. QB Brandon Bridge, Jr.
Is it going to be his offense all season long, or will he be challenged by USF transfer Matt Floyd? Bridge has the experience in the USA system, and he has the size at 6-5 and 220 pounds with good mobility and a live arm. However, he struggled with his accuracy completing just 29-of-66 passes (44%) for 398 yards and a score with two picks, and he ran for 170 yards and a touchdown. The Alcorn State transfer has the upside, but he needs to be consistent to hang on to the gig.
South Alabama Preview