Jalen Wayne had just scored his second touchdown of the game in a 41-34 win over Louisiana-Monroe last Saturday when he glanced up at statistics display on the video replay board at Hancock Whitney Stadium.
Wayne noticed that he, Caullin Lacy and Devin Voisin had all gone over the 100-yard mark in the game receiver. Quarterback Carter Bradley’s statistics were also displayed, and adding up the numbers in his head, Wayne realized no one else had caught a pass for the Jaguars.
“I remember asking Devin if one of the tight ends had caught a pass and he was like, ‘no,’” Wayne said. “We just kind of put two and two together and saw that it was all the receivers with those yards. So it was good to have (Bradley) have a night like that. He deserved that. We wanted to do that for Carter.”
South Alabama’s wide receivers have been “doing it for Carter” all season long, and vice versa. Heading into Thursday night’s sold-out “Battle for the Belt” vs. Troy (5-2, 3-1 Sun Belt Conference) at Hancock Whitney Stadium, Bradley is on pace to shatter Jaguars season records for completions, attempts, passing yards and touchdowns.
Through six games for the Jaguars (5-1, 2-0), Bradley — a Toledo transfer — has completed 126 of 198 passes (63.6%) for 1,694 yards and 13 touchdowns with just four interceptions. Though not to the extreme extent as they did vs. ULM — when the three combined for all but 19 Bradley’s school record 420 yards — Wayne, Lacy and Voisin have done most of the heavy lifting.
“That work started out in January,” Bradley said. “Just building that relationship with them and throughout the summer. Those guys have put in so much work. Not just them, but along with the other guys in the room. I can’t say enough good things about them.”
Wayne, the veteran of the group, leads the team in touchdown catches (5) and is second in receptions (31) and yards (491). Voisin, a first-year starter, has 26 grabs for 334 yards and a touchdown.
But it’s Lacy who has been the breakout performer in 2022. The junior from Mobile is first on the South Alabama team in receptions (35) and yards (503), to go with three touchdowns.
As the Warhawks found out, it’s nearly impossible to cover all three on every play. Lacy set a school record with 12 receptions, to go with 133 yards and a touchdown.
Wayne added five receptions for 127 yards and two scores, while Voisin caught nine passes for a team-best 141 yards. (Tight end Lincoln Sefcik had the Jaguars’ only other catch of the night, a 19-yard reception late in the fourth quarter when they were trying to run out the clock.)
“It’s certainly ideal because it forces a defense to have to honor our entire route progression,” South Alabama head coach Kane Wommack said. “And I think what allows us to do that is we have a quarterback that can recognize our concepts, find ways to get the ball to each of those guys. But also, he recognizes what the defense is doing and he can work through his progression and get the ball delivered where it needs to be.
“You have some quarterbacks that are a little bit more one-dimensional in their reads and one-dimensional in how many players that you actually want to get the ball to. We’re fortunate enough to have three.”
Voisin took over the starting job vacated by Jalen Tolbert, the 2021 Sun Belt Offensive Player of the Year who is now with the NFL’s Dallas Cowboys. A year earlier, Lacy stepped into the spot previously occupied by Kawaan Baker, a seventh-round pick of the New Orleans Saints.
The one constant has been Wayne, a sixth-year senior from Spanish Fort who is in his fourth year as a starter. He said he has made a conscious effort to impart what he learned from Tolbert and Baker to his younger teammates.
“Just seeing them grow up, seeing Caullin grow up learning coverage, learning plays, learning the whole playbook, learning everyone else’s job and not just their job — it’s the biggest thing,” Wayne said. “And especially with Devin, just seeing him just come out to practice and keep being hungry every day and ready for his opportunity is amazing. To see him lead the game in receiving yards, that’s just something that we take very seriously here.
“Now it’s kind of turning into a competition and a trio. It’s kind like it was with me and KB and Jalen a few years ago. It’s another feeling like that. I just feel like this time I’m KB.”
In addition to developing more weapons at receiver, South Alabama is also vastly improved on the offensive line. Center James Jackson is enjoying an all-conference type of season in his second year after transferring from Mississippi State, while redshirt freshman right tackle Adrein Strickland is playing like a future star.
Josh McCulloch has solidified the left tackle spot, while undersized senior Reggie Smith has been impossible to get out of the lineup at right guard. Florida State transfer Dontae Lucas has missed some time due to injury, with Kent Foster — like Smith a former walk-on — stepping in at left guard the last two weeks.
South Alabama has allowed just 10 sacks in six games (1.6 per game) this season, after surrendering 29 in 12 games (2.42 per game) a year ago. Part of that is Bradley’s mobility and quick release, but also an across-the-board step forward by the Jaguars’ offensive front.
“When you have good protection, a quarterback can work through things,” offensive coordinator Major Applewhite said. “He’s accurate and he was able to find different people — not intentionally, like ‘well, now it’s Caullin’s turn.’ He was just able to work through his progressions and guys were running great routes and catching the football. But if you don’t have protection, you can’t get through those routes. So it starts with protection.”
Kickoff for Saturday’s “Battle for the Belt” is set for 6:30 p.m. Thursday at Hancock Whitney Stadium. The game will be broadcast live via ESPNU.
Louisiana-Monroe at South Alabama football