68 Ventures Bowl: South Alabama vs Eastern Michigan
By Rory Daniels
Bowl Season continues! 84 teams, 42 matchups, 35 different cities; if you thought the College Football postseason was restricted to the four teams in the playoffs, think again. In this game preview, we turn our attention to the 68 Ventures Bowl:
Where and When
68 Ventures Bowl
Location: Hancock Whitney Stadium, Mobile, AL.
Date: 23rd December 2023
Time: 7:00pm (ET)
Story so far…
This season will be viewed as a disappointment for South Alabama. Following a 10-3 record in head coach Kane Wommack’s second year, the Jaguars were the AP’s second favourite to take the Sun Belt title. Instead, they finished the year just scraping their way to bowl eligibility. After a promising week 3 takedown of Power 5 opponent Oklahoma State, things went off the rails with losses to James Madison, Troy and Louisiana. Sun Belt aspirations doused, the Jags will seek some solace from a bowl victory.
It was a similar story in Eastern Michigan. The program has been dragged back to life since head coach Chris Creighton took the reins ten years ago. Creighton was responsible for the first winning season in twenty years back in 2016. Last year was his most successful in charge, with the Eagles going 9-4 and securing the first bowl win of his tenure. Despite a disappointing 6-6 season this time round, back-to-back bowl wins would be quite an achievement for this team.
There is some uncertainty over the QB spot for South Alabama. This year’s starter Carter Bradley, was injured in the season finale vs Texas State, and his status is unknown. He was statistically impressive, throwing for 2660 yards and 19 touchdowns, with a completion rate of 67.8%. Much of that was down to receiver Caullin Lacy, who won’t be available before his transfer to Louisville. If Bradley is absent, it will be senior backup Desmond Trotter or freshman Gio Lopez who will burn his redshirt should he feature.
Eastern Michigan’s starting quarterback, Austin Smith, will be unavailable as he heads to the transfer portal. That leaves things to Ike Udengwu III, who is relatively unknown. A JUCO transfer from Mount San Antonio College, he saw action in two games this year. Of his 28 pass attempts, he threw for 99 yards, including two interceptions. South Alabama will certainly look to capitalise on that inexperience.
Prospects to watch…
Jamaal Pritchett, Wide Receiver – Due to the absence of Lacy at wide receiver, a lot of the workload will fall to Jamaal Pritchett. Despite his diminutive 5’8, 164lbs frame, Pritchett lines up predominantly as an outside receiver. He is averaging 15.4 yards per reception, and particularly impressive is his contested catch rate of 53.8%. For a man of his size, that is an intriguing stat.
Quentin Wilfawn, Defensive End – Wilfawn started his college career as a middle linebacker. At 6’1, 248lbs, it seems the best fit for his body type. However, the Jags have used him somewhat as a ‘tweener’. Wilfawn started the year exclusively as an edge rusher before taking more snaps at linebacker and even safety. The former JUCO product has plenty of production wherever he lines up, leading the team in tackles for loss with 15 and contributing 6.5 sacks.
Samson Evans, Running Back – There will be plenty of pressure on the Eastern Michigan running game due to Udengwu’s inexperience at QB. Evans had his best game of the season last time out, gashing Buffalo for 125 yards at 5.7 per carry. He is the thunder to Jaylon Jackson’s lightning in this running-back tandem. Evans used his 6’0, 217lbs frame to barrel in for 12 touchdowns on the year, and he will need a big day to give the Eagles a shot.
Kempton Shine, Cornerback – The versatile corner Shine can line up both as an outside corner or in the slot. His physicality is clear on tape, earning him a run defense grade of 89.0 from PFF. He was targeted 52 times this season and got five pass breakups, showing his nose for the ball. While he won’t get a marquee matchup vs Lacy, he will look to shut this Jags offense down.
This is a home game for South Alabama, and that, paired with going up against an unknown entity at QB means they are rightly heavy favourites. I am not one to back the upset here, I think South Alabama remains a talented group and will earn a bowl victory in front of their fans.
South Alabama 36-16 Eastern Michigan
COLLEGE FOOTBALL WRITER
FORMERLY WRITING FOR THE INSIDE ZONE, RORY WILL BE BREAKING DOWN COLLEGE TAPE AND KEEPING YOU UP-TO-DATE WITH ALL THINGS CFB FOR THE TOUCHDOWN. AN AVID BENGALS FAN, YOU CAN ALSO FIND SOME OF RORY’S WORK AT STRIPEHYPE.COM.