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2014 Camellia Bowl Preview

Bowling Green (7-6, 5-3 MAC) vs. South Alabama (6-6, 5-3 Sun Belt)

Date: Saturday, December 20
Time: 9:15 p.m. (EST)
Location: Montgomery, AL
Stadium: Cramton Bowl (25,000)
Television: ESPN
Series Record: First Meeting

The inaugural Camellia Bowl will feature an in-state program making its initial trip to the postseason.

South Alabama, which started its football program in 2009, has only been competing at the FBS level since 2011.

The Jaguars, who have been led by head coach Joey Jones since the program’s inception, ended their season by dropping two straight and four of their last five. However, their 5-2 start against the easier part of their schedule was enough to help secure the program’s first bowl berth despite the poor finish.

After winning the MAC title last season, Bowling Green head coach Dave Clawson headed to Wake Forest. Despite that coaching transition, the Falcons managed to return to the MAC title game again this year. They fell short against Northern Illinois, but first-year coach Dino Babers and company will look to do something they haven’t done the last two years—win a bowl game. In 2012, BGSU fell to San Jose State in the Military Bowl before dropping a 30-27 game to Pitt in the Little Caesars Pizza Bowl last December.

USA’s best win was a 47-21 win at Appalachian State. Following a 1-5 start, the Mountaineers won six straight to close the year and finish 7-5. However, ASU isn’t going bowling due to a rule that prevents first-year FBS teams from participating in the postseason.

The Jags, who operate out of a spread attack, have had their share of offensive struggles. USA, which averages just 22 points, has converted just 37 percent of its third downs and scored touchdowns on less than half (18-of-37) of its red zone trips. Additionally, Jag quarterbacks have been picked off 15 times and USA is tied for 89 in turnover margin.

Senior Brandon Bridge has completed just over half of his attempts while throwing for 1,648 yards and 14 scores (compared to six interceptions). Bridge, who stands 6’5” and 235 pounds, also the ability to hurt you with his legs, as he has 256 yards and three touchdowns on the ground.

Kndall Hunter (659 yards) leads a backfield that has four backs with 380 yards or more.

Shavarez Smith, who has 50 catches for 714 yards and eight touchdowns, is Bridge’s top target when USA puts it in the air.
They will likely have some opportunities to make plays, as the Falcon defense they will be facing allows 34 points and 500 yards per game—with more than 200 of those coming on the ground. The saving grace for BGSU defense has been its ability to force turnovers, as they have picked off 14 passes and recovered 15 fumbles.

Meanwhile, the BGSU offense has been a well-balanced attack that produces 30 points and 425 yards per game.

The three-headed monster of Travis Greene, Fred Coppet and Andre Givens has rushed for more than 2,000 yards and 24 touchdowns.
James Knapke has thrown for over 2,800 yards, but he has struggled to protect the ball at times. The redshirt sophomore signal-caller has passed for 13 touchdowns, but has also thrown 12 interceptions.

The Jaguars’ defense, which allows 25.8 points and 390.5 yards per contest, will attempt to slow down the Falcons’ ground game and get some pressure on Knapke.

USA defensive end Theo Rich leads his unit with 12 tackles for loss and eight sacks.

Both teams struggle to stop the run and be efficient in the red zone. Playing in their first bowl game in school history and with what should be a home field advantage, the Jaguars will be jacked up. However, in the end, take a more experienced Bowling Green team to prevail and make South Alabama’s first postseason appearance a sour one.

Prediction: Bowling Green 30 - South Alabama 20


By Thomas Rosenbaum
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