Southern Miss Golden Eagles
2008 Record: (7-6, 4-4)
2008 Bowl: New Orleans Bowl vs. Troy (W 30-27)
Coach: Larry Fedora (7-6 at Southern Miss, 7-6 overall)
Offensive Coordinator: Darrell Wyatt
Defensive Coordinator: Todd Bradford
Rushing: Damion Fletcher, RB, 1,347 yards
Passing: Austin Davis, QB, 3,128 yards
Receiving: DeAndre Brown, 1,117 yards
Tackles: Chico Hunter, CB, 68
Sacks: Anthony Gray, DT, 6.0
Interceptions: Eddie Hicks, S, 4; Justin Wilson, S, 4
Other Key Returnees: CB C.J. Bailey, WR Gerald Baptiste, G Micah Brown, OT Kyle Burkhart, DE Roshaad Byrd, G Ryan Hebert, DE Deddrick Jones, LB Martez Smith, CB Andre Watson, C Cameron Zipp
Key Losses: LB Tokumbo Abanikanda, K/P Britt Barefoot, G Wesley Housley, OT Ryan McKee, LB Gerald McRath, WR Ed Morgan, TE Shawn Nelson, DT Eric Phillips
Nobody expected Coach Larry Fedora's offense to be picked up too quickly at Southern Miss. Transitioning into the spread offense is never easy, especially in a program that was running such a different scheme. However, The Golden Eagles did an admirable job on offense and the pieces are back for this year's team to be very capable offensively.
Quarterback Austin Davis did a superb job for a freshman, throwing for 3,128 yards and 23 touchdowns. However, it was his mere eight interceptions that surprised the most people. Davis' ability to hang onto the ball gave Southern Miss one of the best turnover ratios in the nation and he should only be better with a year of experience under his belt. The same can be said for fellow sophomore DeAndre Brown. The 6-6 receiver caught 67 passes for 1,117 yards and 12 touchdowns, but may miss some time this season due to a broken leg. Add the experience of Gerald Baptiste to the mix and the Golden Eagles have plenty of receiving threats. However, it is not just the passing attack that will be impressive. Damion Fletcher is back for his senior season and he already holds the career rushing record at USM. Last season he tallied 1,347 yards on the ground and ten romps into the end zone. Fletcher is also a capable receiver out of the backfield and that is very important in this offense.
The defense was not bad at all last year, ranking second in the conference in scoring defense. The unit gave up quite a few yards, but they would make it very difficult for anybody to get into the end zone. Eight starters are back, but two of the missing pieces are linebackers Gerald McRath and Tokumbo Abanikanda. Those two were the team's top two tacklers and McRath left early for the NFL. Finding replacements for them in the middle of the field will be a tough task for defensive coordinator Todd Bradford. That will put a lot of pressure on players like Martez Smith to step up and fill the void. The defensive line had trouble getting into the backfield and Anthony Gray and Deddrick Jones have to find a way to get to the quarterback. If they do, the experienced secondary will be one of the best in the conference.
The Bottom Line:
Southern Miss returns enough talent to make a run at a Conference USA championship. Four of their six losses last year were by a touchdown or less and, with another year of experience in the new system, the ball might bounce their direction a little more often. The offense should score 35 points per game, but the difference between a special season and just another bowl trip will be the play of the linebackers.
2008 Team Stats:
Rushing Offense: 192.46 (24th in nation, 3rd in conference)
Passing Offense: 241.08 (40, 6)
Total Offense: 433.54 (20, 4)
Scoring Offense: 30.62 (31, 5)
Rushing Defense: 139.77 (58, 4)
Pass Defense: 226.31 (85, 5)
Total Defense: 366.08 (65, 4)
Scoring Defense: 24.08 (54, 2)
Turnover Margin: 1.00 (10, 2)
Sacks: 1.46 (93, 11)
Sacks Allowed: 2.31 (90, 11)