4. WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT THE SOUTHERN MISS DEFENSE
– Six starters and three of the top four tacklers are back from the nation’s third-best defense that allowed just 278 yards and 19.8 points per game. How good was the D? No one came up with more than 30 points, and it allowed 24 points or fewer in nine of the 11 games.
– USM had seven all-stars, starting with junior DE Jacques Turner at one end and with 264-pound Demarrio Smith back in the middle. The line needs a few new parts to step up, but the key backups from last year are about to get into the lounge.
Former transfer Von’Darius Freeman is a 339-pound space-eater for the nose, but it’ll take fall camp to come up with the right rotation for the other end job.
– Leading tackler Picasso Nelson is done in the secondary, but CB Ty Williams and safety Ky’el Hemby are back after combining or 100 tackles and nine picks – Hemby came up with six of them. They’re not the only playmakers in a secondary for a defense that picked off 14 passes and allowed just 13 scores.
– Two of the top linebackers from last season are done, but 210-pound junior Racheem Boothe is back after finishing fourth on the team with 47 tackles. The other two spots are up for grabs in fall camp with a slew of young, inexperienced options battling for jobs.