Stumbles at the start, turnovers throughout doom ‘Dogs

INFREQUENT SUCCESS:  Senior running back Greg Garner found space on this play, but Louisiana Tech’s running game was again hit-and-mostly miss Saturday night at South Alabama.

By KYLE ROBERTS, Lincoln Parish Journal

MOBILE, Ala. – Turnovers and a tough third quarter again proved too much for visiting Louisiana Tech to overcome in a 38-14 Saturday night loss to the South Alabama Jaguars in the Bulldogs’ last non-conference outing of 2022 – but the game’s start left a lot to be desired, too.

The tone was set right away as the Jaguars (3-1) returned the opening kickoff for a touchdown, before being called for a penalty. However, South Alabama marched nearly effortlessly down the field on the opening drive using six plays to cover 80 yards and get on the scoreboard.

A Bulldog punt ending the next series was returned for a 56-yard TD less than four minutes into the game. South Alabama’s 14-0 lead established a spread the Jaguars maintained and expanded.

“We did not give our team a chance to win the game,” Louisiana Tech head coach Sonny Cumbie said. “We turned the ball over five times. That’s 24 points on our turnovers. They scored 38, and we’ve got to find a way on offense to move the football without putting it at risk. You have to credit South Alabama. They played very physical, and they created those takeaways. It was an embarrassing performance on offense by me, as a coach. And I put it on us to be better in practice and to make us more aware of those things in practice. That’s where you start; in practice. And just going back and seeing where we can practice better; not just with energy but with execution and having attention on what we do.”

After leading 17-7 at halftime, South Alabama extended the spread over the Bulldogs with a pair of touchdowns in the third period, handing Louisiana Tech (1-3) its third road loss of the season. Last week, Clemson pushed away from a one-score halftime lead by dominating the Bulldogs in the third period, and USA’s third period put Saturday’s outcome on ice.

Louisiana Tech’s sole score in the first half was a pass to Smoke Harris by Parker McNeil for a 52-yard touchdown reception with 13:02 left to go in the second quarter. For the night, McNeil finished with four interceptions to go with two touchdowns through the air.

McNeil was pulled after the multiple interceptions, including one that was returned for a touchdown, before going back in later in the second half.

“I wanted to give him a chance to catch his breath, for things to slow down a little bit for him, to see the game from the sidelines and see things differently,” Cumbie said of his starting quarterback. “It starts with me. We’ve got to take care of the football better at that position. We’ve got to give our football team a chance because when you turn the ball over five times, you have absolutely no chance of winning.”

South Alabama outrushed the Bulldogs 175 yards to 57, as Louisiana Tech’s run game woes continued on the road.

Tech’s only other score was a four-yard touchdown pass to Griffin Hebert in the fourth quarter to cap an 80-yard drive.

Senior Greg Garner led Tech rushers with 51 yards on seven carries.

“South Alabama is a good team, and we’re going to have our hands full against UTEP. (But) every game in conference is a game we can win,” Cumbie said. “When you turn the ball over five times and you don’t show up on special teams, it’s going to be very difficult.”

Tech will head into a bye week to recoup before hosting conference foe UTEP at Joe Aillet Stadium on Saturday, Oct. 8.

“You’ve got two weeks to sit,” Cumbie said. “I hope it motivates our guys to practice, motivates us as coaches. You have two weeks to sit around and feeling sorry for yourself or you can find a way to get better.”

Photo by MURPHY BAVINGA, Louisiana Tech Athletics