By GLENN GUILBEAU
Tiger Rag Featured Columnist
BATON ROUGE – With a strange and sarcastic smile, Dan Mullen looked like Norman Bates in “Psycho.”
After all, he had just lost to 28-point underdog South Alabama, 21-20, on Saturday, September 3, when Westin Graves’ missed – ironically – a 28-yard field goal missed because it smacked the left upright and fell no good with six seconds to play in the game.
South Alabama, a small commuter school in Mobile, Alabama, much like the University of New Orleans where students wear apparel from other state schools, just started playing college football in 2009 and only went to the top level Football Bowl Subdivision in 2013.
So this would be like UNO starting football this year and beating Ole Miss in 2023.
“I’m part of the South Alabama Jaguars that beat Mississippi State,” USA (that’s short for South Alabama, not the United States of America in this case) linebacker Roman Buchanan of Enterprise blushed after the game.
“To win a ball game like this is a blessing,” said South Alabama coach Joey Jones, a Mobile native who played wide receiver at Alabama for Bear Bryant.
South Alabama, which fell Saturday at home to Georgia Southern by 24-9 for an encore, has actually become a very good start-up major college football program almost overnight. The Jags were 5-7 overall and 3-5 in the Sun Belt last season, but they did become the quickest new FBS program in history to reach a bowl in 2014 when they finished 6-6 overall and 5-3 in the Sun Belt to make the Camelia Bowl in Montgomery, Alabama, where it lost to Bowling Green, 33-28.
Still, this was one of the worst upsets in Mississippi State history, which includes a 9-7 loss to Maine in 2004, and the worst loss in Mullen’s career. It wasn’t quite like Nick Saban and Alabama losing to Louisiana-Monroe, 21-14, in 2007, but it was close.
One can usually gauge the level of upset by the reaction of the winning team. While Mullen appeared ready for the straitjacket, South Alabama went wild. Jones did sort of a run dance across the field.
A woman in a tank top that actually said “Jaguars,” and not Alabama or Auburn, wept while holding a toddler in the stands.
This was the second biggest win in South Alabama athletics history. It was obviously the biggest in football, but it is still No. 2 to the South Alabama basketball team’s 86-84 upset of Alabama in the first round of the NCAA Tournament in 1989 in the Omni in Atlanta, Georgia, because that was in the Big Dance.
Guard Junie Lewis, known as “Peanut Butter,” fed (sorry) guard Jeff Hodge, known as “Jelly,” and Hodge hit a 3-pointer for the Jags with two seconds to go for the win. USA coach Ronnie Arrow danced across the court, not unlike Jones.
“Coach Jones brought that win over Alabama up after the game,” Mobile radio show host and former Jaguar play-by-play announcer Lee Shirvanian said last week. “That win over Alabama in basketball is still No. 1 in South Alabama history, but this one was 1A.”
This win made was even more full-filling (sorry again) as it stuck in the roof of Alabama’s mouth like peanut butter because then-Coach Wimp Sanderson had been refusing to play the Jaguars in the regular season even though the Jags had been very good under Cliff Ellis in the late 1970s and early ‘80s and went to NCAA Tournaments in 1979 and ’80.
The headline in the Atlanta Journal Constitution the next day said it best – “Peanut Butter to Jelly jams Tide.”
Apparently, Bama Jelly had met its match.
Now, Mullen joins Sanderson in the not-so-voluminous athletic history that is South Alabama. There is plenty room for more, and LSU hosts South Alabama on November 19. So LSU coaches may be double-watching one of State’s game films this week so as to avoid a headline.
The headline on September 4 somewhere should have read:
“SMACK – South Alabama silences State cowbells, 21-20.”
The Bulldogs did recover, though, handling South Carolina Saturday in a 27-14 victory Saturday after leading 24-0 at the half.
Mullen said his team played desperately in the win and wants that to continue when the Bulldogs (1-1, 1-0 SEC) play at No. 20 LSU (1-1) at 6 p.m. Saturday on ESPN2.
“It’s been pretty intense. I’ll tell you that much,” Mullen said of the week of practice post South Alabama, which was obviously still on his mind moments after beating South Carolina a week later.
“That’s who we are. You are going to see a team that plays with unbelievable relentless effort and passing for the game in everything they do, every single snap – 11 guys going as hard as they can every single snap,” he said. “I don’t know that I saw that last week (against USA).”
The Bulldogs outgained South Alabama on the ground 239 to 94, but allowed true freshman quarterback Dallas Davis to complete 24 of 34 passes for 285 yards and two touchdowns. State also blew a 17-0 halftime lead.
“I saw guys kind of do their jobs, execute, play football,” Mullen said as he sort of danced back from foot to foot, mimicking a nonchalant style of play. “I don’t know if I saw that desperate-ness – that desperate intensity to go. And that’s on me. That’s on me to set the standard, to set that bar where it needs to be.”
GUILBEAU SEC POLL: 1. Alabama (2-0). 2. Texas A&M (2-0). 3. Arkansas (2-0). 4. Florida (2-0, 1-0 SEC). 5. Tennessee (2-0). 6. Georgia (2-0). 7. Ole Miss (1-1). 8. LSU (1-1). 9. Auburn (1-1). 10. Mississippi State (1-1, 1-0). 11. South Carolina (1-1, 1-1). 12. Missouri (1-1). 13. Vanderbilt (1-1, 0-1). 14. Kentucky (0-2, 0-1).
QUOTE OF THE WEEK: “There are no arguments. Those are called ass-chewings.”
—Alabama coach Nick Saban when incorrectly asked about an “argument” he had with offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin during the Tide’s 38-10 win over Western Kentucky Saturday. Saban had been seen on the sidelines yelling at Kiffin and throwing off his headset while Kiffin said nothing, and there does need to be two talking for there to be an argument.