Preview 2017: Southern Miss Golden Eagles

Preview 2017: Southern Miss Golden Eagles

Teams & Conferences

Preview 2017: Southern Miss Golden Eagles

Preview 2017: Southern Miss Golden Eagles


Previewing and looking ahead at the Southern Miss Golden Eagles season – and what you need to know.


Contact @PeteFiutak

2017 Southern Miss Preview: Will It Be Weird Again?
2017 Southern Miss Schedule Breakdown & Analysis
– Southern Miss Previews: 2016 | 2015

What You Need To Know About The Southern Miss Offense

It was good. It might might not have been as unstoppable as it probably should’ve been, and it was glossed over compared to WKU and Louisiana Tech in the conference, but it still finished 21st in the nation averaging 473 yards and 33 points per game.

Replacing QB Nick Mullens is a problem. The combination of Keon Howard and Kwadra Griggs have to try replacing the guy who cranked up a passing attack that averaged close to 300 yards per game. One of them has to take over and be the main man, and the receiving corps should help with bowl star Allezae Staggars leading a veteran group.

The star of the show is RB Ito Smith, who should hover around the 2,000-yard total offense mark again, leading a deep group of backs who can work into the rotation behind a line that only gets back two starters. Essentially …

Biggest Key To The Southern Miss Offense

The offensive line has to be a rock. All-star C Cameron Tom is gone along with the entire left side, including the backups. It’s not a total redo with just two starters back, but the starting five has to come together fast, not to mention the backup options.

The rest to the offense will be fine. The quarterback situation will work out, and the rest of the skill guys will be great. Now they all need time to work.

What You Need To Know About The Southern Miss Defense

The defense did just about everything right but take the ball away on a consistent basis, and it melted down from time to time in odd moments.

The secondary was tenth in the nation in pass defense, the run defense allowed just 150 yards per game, and the D overall was fantastic on third downs and at getting off the field. But it also allowed 35 points or more six times.

Four of the top six tacklers are gone, but eight of the top 12 are back. There’s enough experience back to be okay, but the stars have to emerge, especially in the linebacking corps.

Losing NT Dylan Bradley is a problem, but the rest of the O line should be fine. Also gone are a few of the top safeties, but the corners should be among the league’s best and should shine if the pass rush is consistent.

Sherrod Ruff made a bunch of tackles, but now the linebackers have to emerge in the 4-2-5 alignment. The plays in the backfield aren’t going to come from the LBs, with the front needing to be more disruptive, because …

Biggest Key To The Southern Miss Defense

The run defense can’t melt down. Southern Miss shouldn’t have lost to UTSA or Charlotte, but the defense got hit for more than 300 rushing yards against both teams – UTSA averaged almost ten yards per carry, and Charlotte was close to seven yards per pop.

The run D was terrific against just about everyone else – no one else ran for more than 200 – but on the year, USM was 1-5 when allowing 170 rushing yards or more, and was 6-1 when allowing fewer.

Southern Miss Will Be Far Better If …

There are more takeaways and the turnover margin is better. Last year’s team was able to outbomb its way out of a slew of issues. This year’s less experienced team probably won’t be able to overcome a -17 turnover margin.

The Golden Eagles came up with three takeaways four times on the season – and took the ball away just three in the other nine games. On the year, USM was -3 or worse in four games, losing three times.

The last time Southern Miss finished a season on the plus side of the turnover margin? It was +9 in 2010, and has been a -65 since then.

Best Southern Miss Offensive Player

RB Ito Smith, Sr. – The do-it-all star in the backfield, Smith not only ran for 1,459 yards and 17 touchdowns – averaging 5.5 yards per carry – he also came up with 43 catches for 459 yards and two scores.

The 5-9, 195-pounder isn’t massive, but he’s been able to handle the ball over 300 times without a problem, running for 100 yards or more eight times in his second straight 1,000-yard season. Very quick through the hole, good around the goal line, and fantastic no matter how he gets the ball, now he has to carry the offense even more.

2. WR Allenzae Staggers, Sr.
3. TE Julian Allen, Sr.
4. PK Parker Shaunfield, Jr.
5. WR Korey Robertson, Jr.

Best Southern Miss Defensive Player

DE Xavier Thigpen, Sr. – The team’s leading returning pass rusher, the all-star defensive end came up with five sacks, 12.5 tackles for loss, and 33 tackles, and now he has to do even more as one of the few veteran presences up front. The 6-5, 240-pounder was erased at times – he went four games without a tackle. That can’t happen this year – he has to be a regular in the backfield almost all the time.

2. S Picasso Nelson, Sr.
3. CB Curtis Mikell, Sr.
4. LB Sherrod Ruff, Sr.
5. DT LaDarius Harris, Jr.

Key Player To A Successful Season

QB Keon Howard, Soph. Or junior Kwadra Griggs. Someone has to take over the starting quarterback job, open for the first time since Nick Mullens grabbed it in 2013.

At 6-3 and 225 pounds, Griggs – a JUCO transfer – has the size, the arm, and the experience to step in and bomb away, while the 6-1, 205-pound Howard is a bit more of a dual-threat option who got in a little work as the backup, throwing for 365 yards and a touchdown with four picks, and finishing fourth on the team with 150 rushing yards and two scores.

Whomever it is, the starter has to crank up the close to 3,330 passing yards, 24 touchdowns, and four years of leadership and production Mullens provided. At the very least, the offense should still be bombing away.

The Southern Miss Season Will Be A Success If …

It wins the Conference USA title. There might be a ton of key losses, and it’s going to take a little while to find the same offensive magic, but the schedule is a peach. The non-conference games against Kentucky and Tennessee aren’t easy, but the Wildcats have to come to Hattiesburg.

Of course, the SECers don’t matter for the season success, and even the Conference USA slate is easy. There’s no WKU, Middle Tennessee or Old Dominion from the East, and every conference game is against a team coming off a losing season except for …

Key Game To The Southern Miss Season

Oct. 21 at Louisiana Tech – Every game on the schedule is winnable – including the opener against Kentucky – with a shot at going at least 5-1 before having to go to Ruston. If the Golden Eagles want to win the West, this is the game to get it done against the defending division champs. USM won 39-24 last season, but Louisiana Tech still went off to the C-USA title game.

2016 Southern Miss Fun Stats

– 4th Down Conversions: Southern Miss 22-of-35 (63%) – Opponents 5-of-12 (42%)
– Time of Possession: Southern Miss 33:27 – Opponents 26:33
– Fumbles: Southern Miss 28 (lost 16) – Opponents 15 (lost 5)

2017 Southern Miss Preview: Will It Be Weird Again?
2017 Southern Miss Schedule Breakdown & Analysis
– Southern Miss Previews: 2016 | 2015

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