Southern Mississippi Golden Eagles
2011 Record: 12-2 Overall, 6-2 Conference USA
2011 Bowl Result: Beat Nevada 24-17 in the Hawaii Bowl
Head Coach: Ellis Johnson
Last season, the Southern Miss Golden Eagles finished 12-2. They upset undefeated Houston 49-28 in the Conference USA Championship Game. Southern Miss then beat Nevada in the Hawaii Bowl 24-17. The Golden Eagles two losses came by a total of 9 points at Marshall and a terrible UAB team. Southern Miss did upset Virginia last year though.
That was under head coach Larry Fedora, an offensive genius, who left to become the head coach at North Carolina. The Golden Eagles hired 60 year old Ellis Johnson who was the defensive coordinator and assistant head coach at South Carolina under Steve Spurrier. Johnson was the defensive coordinator at Southern Miss for two seasons in 1988 and 1989 when the quarterback was some guy named Brett Favre. (I wonder what ever happened to him.) Before that Johnson was the head coach at lower division schools Gardner-Webb and The Citadel in the early 80’s.
Let’s take a look at the offense, defense, special teams, and schedule for Southern Miss.
Johnson brought in a surprise hire, 48 year old Steve Buckley to run the offense. Buckley spent the last 6 years as the head coach of Petal High School in Mississippi. He led the Panthers to the Mississippi 6A state title last year. Buckley will still use the spread offense with an emphasis on the run. Buckley was named the offensive coordinator after spring practice. Johnson had originally named former Louisiana-Lafayette coach Rickey Bustle as the coordinator, but he will coach the running backs instead.
Austin Davis graduated after being the quarterback for the last 3 1/2 seasons. Last season, Davis threw for just under 3,500 yards with 30 touchdowns and 11 interceptions. He also rushed for almost 400 yards and 4 touchdowns. Junior Chris Campbell and redshirt freshman Ricky Lloyd will compete for the starting job, but neither has taken a snap at Southern Miss. Campbell was injured last year, but was Davis’ back-up for 2 years. Arsenio Favor could also be in the mix as he was the back-up with Campbell injured.
Leading rusher Jamal Woodyard tore his ACL in the bowl game against Nevada. He was kicked off the team after he was arrested for armed robbery in May. He rushed for over 700 yards and 3 touchdowns, and also caught two touchdowns. Six players had at least 59 carries last season, including Davis and Woodyard. Wide Receiver Tracey Lampley had 91 carries for 463 yards, and 3 touchdowns. He also had 47 catches for 574 yards, and 4 touchdowns. Lampley also had over 700 return yards on kicks and punts, and returned a punt for a touchdown last year. Kendrick Hardy and Desmond Johnson combined for 147 carries, 850 yards, and 4 touchdowns. Both return and look to get more carries without Woodyard.
Lampley and former quarterback Dominique Sullivan will be the top receivers. Sullivan had 32 catches, 461 yards, and 2 touchdowns. Quentin Pierce, Chris Briggs, and Cooper Harrington will also get some targets from whomever the quarterback happens to be. Markese Triplett moves from tight end to receiver.
The offensive line will start 4 seniors and that should help the Golden Eagles’ run game. Jason Weaver moves from right to left tackle.
Defensive coordinator Tommy West comes over from UAB where he had the same position. West will keep the same 4-2-5 defense that Southern Miss used last year. The Golden Eagles had the 15th ranked defense in the country last year and allowed under 21 points a game.
However, West must replace most of the starters on a fantastic front six from a year ago. Ends Dasmun McCullum and Jamie Collins do return on the defensive line. Collins had 19 tackles for loss, 6.5 sacks, and 8 quarterback hurries. He even returned an interception 97 yards.
The top 3 linebackers are gone from a year ago. The linebacking corps will be talented but inexperienced. Junior Alan Howze returns from last year, but the others (Chauncey Smith, Tarrick Wright, and Dylan Reda) are either redshirt freshmen or JUCO transfers.
The secondary lost two starters from last year, but cornerback Deron Wilson and safety Jacorius Cotton do return. Wilson had 4 interceptions last year, two of them for touchdowns, and 13 pass breakups.
Punter Peter Boehme returns. He was third in Conference USA in punting last year. The Golden Eagles must replace kicker Danny Hrapmann. Sophomore Corey Acosta will likely be the kicker. He made his only two attempts last year.
The return unit should be solid again in the capable hands and speedy feet of Lampley.
Southern Miss has a difficult non-conference schedule. They open at Nebraska, before a conference game at home against East Carolina. The Golden Eagles then go on the road to Western Kentucky. Southern Miss hosts Big East favorite Louisville, and Mountain West favorite Boise St in back to back weeks. The rest of the schedule includes road games at Central Florida, Rice, SMU, and Memphis, and home games against Marshall, UAB, and UTEP.
Southern miss must break in a new quarterback, with a new coaching staff as well. They have talent at the skill positions, and the defense should still be top 50 in the country. It won’t be as strong as last season, but it will still be good. The Golden Eagles will learn pretty quickly with their first game at Nebraska. Talk about trial by fire. If they can survive the brutal non-conference schedule, Southern Miss has a chance to win 8 games, but trips to SMU and Central Florida are very tough. I think the Golden Eagles finish second in the C-USA East behind Central Florida, but still qualify for a bowl game.
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