Southern Miss closed out the offseason with the Gold Team beating the Black Team 10-7 in the spring game. The defense won the day by holding one of the nation’s top passers, QB Nick Mullens, to six completions on ten attempts for a mere 35 yards. In limited action, the senior was also sacked three times.
As we slug through the summer, I’ll post additional updates on UK’s opening day opponent. As for now, the following is an overview and a brief glimpse into what to expect on September 3rd.
Southern Miss finished 2015 with a 9-5 record. USM lost their final two contests by losing to Western Kentucky in the Conference USA Championship 45-28 and later falling to the Washington Huskies 44-31 in the Heart of Dallas Bowl. Prior to National Signing Day, Head Coach Todd Monken departed Hattiesburg for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Former Southern Miss defensive coordinator and Alcorn State head coach, Jay Hopson, returned to assume the duties as the leader of the Golden Eagles’ football program. The last time USM defeated an SEC team on the road was in 2000 when it beat Alabama 21-0.
Former Kentucky offensive coordinator Shannon Dawson was selected to oversee an explosive offense. 2015 saw USM rack up 509.4 yards per game while averaging 39.9 points.
QB Nick Mullens returns for his senior season after throwing for 4,476 yards and 38 touchdowns in 2015. The 6’1 signal caller from Hoover, Alabama is one of the nation’s top quarterbacks. Mullens also completed 63.5% of his 521 attempts last fall.
Running back Ito Smith returns after contributing 1,643 total yards and 13 touchdowns. Smith will run behind an offensive line that is looking to replace tackles Rashod Hill and Norman Price. Ty Pollard and Jacob Fleming are in the mix to anchor the edge while guards Bates Oliver and Brandon Farmer as well as center Tom Cameron return in the interior.
Mike Thomas and Casey Martin led the USM receivers with a combined 2,316 yards and 21 touchdowns. Both have moved on. DJ Thompson, 55 receptions for 776 yards and 6 TD’s, Marquis Ricard, and Korey Roberts will move up to featured roles. In addition, three junior college transfers, Allenzae Staggers, Shannon Smith, and Isiah Jones will provide depth and speed to the receiving corps.
Defensive Coordinator Tony Pecoraro followed Jay Hopson from Alcorn State. Hopson is a highly respected defensive mind and is expected to be heavily involved while installing his 4-2-5 scheme. In 2015, Southern Miss surrendered 25.6 points per game while giving up an average of 379.5 yards per contest.
Much like Kentucky, the secondary is its strength. Returning starters include cornerback Cornell Armstrong, Safety/Linebacker D’Nerius Antoine and Picasso Nelson Jr.
The defensive line dominated the spring game. Defensive end Dylan Bradley recorded 12.5 tackles for loss and 6.5 quarterback sacks in 2015. Bradley and Darius Yancey anchor a unit that gained an offensive tackle transplant in 6’7 280 pound Wil Freeman. Ja’Boree Poole and LaDarius Harris combined for three sacks in the spring game.
Linebackers D’Nerius Antoine and Elijah Parker come back from the Conference USA’s third ranked defense. Jay Hopson is looking for replacements from a talented group of underclassmen and junior college transfers.
Southern Miss is a formidable opening day opponent. With a new coaching staff, it is uncertain how it will gel prior to September 3rd. Stay tuned for more USM posts later this summer.