Southern Miss is NOT Ito Smith and a Bunch of Dudes
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Southern Miss is NOT Ito Smith and a Bunch of Dudes

Freddie Maggardover 4 years


Article written by:Freddie MaggardFreddie Maggard
If you are a regular Kentucky Sports Radio reader or Depth Chart Podcast listener, then the odds are pretty high that you’ve heard me continually babble on about Southern Miss star running back Ito Smith. But, did you know or do you care to remember that the Golden Eagles had two, 100-yard rushers during its (upset?) win in Lexington a year ago? Yes indeedy. RB George Payne ran for 100-yards off just 16 carries to go along with Smith’s 36 rushes for 173-yards. That’s 273 rushing yards from two running backs if you’re keeping score at home. Both now seniors; the one-two RB punch returns for a second go-around with the Cats come September 2nd; kinda. Offensive coordinator Shannon Dawson has intelligently limited Ito Smith’s fall camp carries in order to avoid injury. However, the major news coming out of Hattiesburg is that RB George Payne has yet to participate in preseason workouts due to an aggravated hip injury that caused him to miss the greater portion of spring practice. The Hattiesburg American’s Jason Munz reported on August 1st that Payne may not be physically ready for the Golden Eagle’s season opener against Kentucky. However, with or without Payne, USM is still expected to have the best collection of running backs in Conference USA.

A Quick Look at the Southern Miss Running Backs

#25 Ito Smith, 5’9 195-pound senior is the starter and one of college football’s most unheralded superstars. He averaged 5.5 yards per rush off 265 carries while gaining 1459-yards and 17 touchdowns in 2016. Smith is also considered to be one of the nation’s better pass catching running backs (especially in the screen game) as he collected 43 catches for 459-yards and 2 scores. You’ve probably read or heard this before, but here it is again; Ito Smith is the only active FBS player with over 3000 career rush and 1000 receiving yards. 

#24 George Payne, 6’0 207-pounds is the team’s power back and a perfect change-of-pace weapon. He rushed 103 times for 496-yards and 2 touchdowns a year ago to go along with 10 catches for 67-yards.

#8 Tez Parks, 6’1 210-pound junior is a former high school quarterback. He had limited carries in 2016 but was productive when opportunities surfaced: 34 rushes, 155-yards, 4.6 yards per carry.

What does all this mean?

A Payne-less offense will lack a power back to counter the shifty Smith. Tez Parks is an elusive and highly capable third option. Southern Miss is slugging through fall camp with an ongoing quarterback competition that may not be resolved or announced until minutes prior to kickoff vs. Kentucky. Either Kwadra Griggs or Keon Howard will be named as the starter. My guess is that both will play vs. UK.

It also retains a talented group of receivers that includes 6’1, 190-pound Allenzae Staggers. The senior caught 63 passes for 1165-yards and 7 touchdowns in 2016. The skilled pass catchers will assist whichever quarterback triumphs from the competition but doubts remain surrounding its passing attack. The team’s primary offensive constant lies within its running backs.

I don’t expect Southern Miss to have the same overbearing ground-game against the Wildcats as it did in 2016. Along with Payne, also missing is four-year starter and All C-USA center Cameron Tom who is now playing on Sundays. It returns just two starters along the offensive line.

Offensive coordinator Shannon Dawson inherited a turn-key quarterback and offensive operation in 2016. 2017 offers a dissimilar experiment as he must break in a new quarterback in a pressure packed home opener against an SEC opponent that it defeated a year ago. Let the gamesmanship begin.

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