A former Southern Miss linebacker, Tyrone Nix coordinates the Golden Eagle defense. He's spent his entire coaching career at his alma mater, coaching defensive tackles, linebackers and defensive backs before taking over last season as the youngest defensive coordinator in the nation.
"They line up everywhere in different places," Koenning said of the Golden Eagle defense. "The coaches do a nice job of getting their kids in the right place. They're a good football team."
If not dominant, so far the Southern Miss defense has been definitely good. Per game they're giving up 124.3 yards on the ground and 172.3 through the air, which combined ranks them 26th nationally. In the more important category of scoring defense, the Golden Eagles are 16th overall, allowing only 13.7 points per game.
A perennial power in Conference USA, Southern Miss has been noted for excellent defense for years now. "They remind me some of Arkansas," Koenning said. "Of course (former Arkansas defensive coordinator) John Thompson is now at Florida. He came out of the Southern Mississippi mold. They all statistically are very sound by the end of the year. They play great defense."
The Golden Eagle athletes may not be the biggest defenders Bama will face this season, but they are always well-coached. "They put their kids in position to play," Koenning said. "They run to the football extremely well. They use multiple alignments. You can't actually say ‘They're this one front.' They're more of a multiple defense.
"Very, very multiple."
Southern Miss only lists three down linemen, but a so-called "bandit end," that will move all over the field before the ball is snapped, will most often end up somewhere on the line of scrimmage. Including him, the Southern D-Linemen only average 264 pounds per man. But what the Golden Eagles lack in bulk, they more than make up for with constant stunts and deception.
Koenning explained, "They may be a tad undersized, but they move around. They jump around, which gives them another way to get in the gaps. To get a running start."
Bandit end Terrell Paul is pre-season all-conference and also a Lombardi Award candidate.
The Southern Miss linebackers are extremely active, ranking first, second and fourth on their team in total tackles. With four apiece, two Golden Eagle backers (‘Sam' and ‘Mike') actually lead the squad in quarterback sacks.
"They use their linebackers to blitz," Koenning related. "Actually, they'll give you the idea that they're blitzing a lot, but they're not at times. They'll play a three-man line and bring five-man pressure, or a three-man line with four-man pressure. They're going to put another guy down there to rush."
Middle linebacker Rod Davis is pre-season all-conference and a candidate for the Lombardi, Nagurski and Butkus awards.
In the secondary Golden Eagle corner Greg Brooks is also all-conference. Plus, he's on the watch list for the Jim Thorpe Award.
And at free safety, Theodore native Etric Pruitt is as good a football player as any on the team. A punishing tackler, Pruitt leads Southern Miss in interceptions. "Pruitt does a nice job for them staying around the football," Koenning said. "When you watch the film, he's always around the play."