CoogFans' Opponent Preview - Southern Miss

This is a team that wants to win the conference crown and this could be the year it happens.

Southern Miss Golden Eagles
Conference USA

2009 Record: (7-6, 5-3)
2009 Bowl: New Orleans Bowl vs. Middle Tennessee State (L 32-42)
Coach: Larry Fedora (14-12 at Southern Miss, 14-12 overall)
Offensive Coordinator: Blake Anderson
Defensive Coordinator: Todd Bradford

Returning Leaders
Rushing: Martevious Young, QB, 294 yards
Passing: Martevious Young, QB, 1,861 yards
Receiving: DeAndre Brown, WR, 785 yards
Tackles: Korey Williams, LB, 121
Sacks: Cordarro Law, DE, 7.5; Korey Williams, LB, 7.5
Interceptions: Martez Smith, LB, 2; Justin Wilson, S, 2
Other Key Returnees: CB C.J. Bailey, QB Austin Davis, DE Deddrick Jones, DT Anthony Gray, DT Terrance Pope, LB Ronnie Thornton, C Cameron Zipp
Key Losses: WR Gerald Baptiste, G Micah Brown, OT Kyle Buckhart, RB Damion Fletcher, RB Tory Harrison, G Ryan Hebert, S Eddie Hicks, OT Brennan Houston, WR Freddie Parham, CB Andre Watson

Coach Larry Fedora was brought to Southern Miss to take the next step and win championships. Back-to-back 7-6 seasons and trips to bowl games are nice, but that is nothing new to the folks in Hattiesburg. This is a team that wants to win the conference crown and this could be the year it happens.

Strengths:
The nasty bunch is back with nine starters returning to what was a very productive defense a year ago. The strength is in the linebacker corps that returns Korey Williams, Ronnie Thornton and Martez Smith. Those three combined for 317 tackles, 29 tackles-for-loss and 11.0 sacks. Williams is an All-American caliber player and should be the leader of the defense from his middle linebacker spot. The defensive line is nearly as impressive and returns all four starters. Cordarro Law had a superb sophomore season, tallying 14.5 tackles-for-loss and 7.5 sacks. Roshaad Byrd, Deddrick Jones, Anthony Gray and Terrance Pope are all experienced linemen who should be able to get plenty of pressure on the opposing quarterback and help the linebackers stuff the run. The secondary has the most turnover with the absence of Eddie Hicks and Andre Watson, but C.J. Bailey and Justin Wilson are ready to become leaders of the secondary and Alabama transfer Alonzo Lawrence should be a fine replacement for Watson at one of the corner spots.

Weaknesses:
It is really hard to call the offense a weakness when quarterback Austin Davis is back and healthy and DeAndre Brown is one of the best receivers in the nation. However, there are some major issues that need to be addressed. The absence of 1,000 yard rusher Damion Fletcher is a cause for concern and Tracy Lampley, who carried the ball just 21 times last season, and redshirt freshman Kendrick Hardy will have to handle the load. Even more troublesome is the lack of experience on the offensive line. Four starters are gone from the unit and the development of the new starters and finding some quality depth for them will be the difference between another 7-6 season and something very special. With a bunch of junior college transfers and former defensive players filling some of the holes, it is a big question whether or not the line can hold together.

The Bottom Line:
Davis was off to a great start last year before going down with an injury. Now fully healthy, the junior signal caller could be in for a big year. Even if the offensive line struggles, he has the ability to make plays and has a receiver in Brown that can help him out. Martevious Young performed quite well in Davis' absence, but this is Davis' team and Young will have to go back to being a backup, albeit an experienced and talented one. If the line can give Davis time, he will pick apart most opposing defenses and the Southern Miss defense has the ability to stifle even the most potent offenses in the conference. If that happens, the Golden Eagles will be playing in the Conference USA Championship game and looking at a much better record than 7-6.

2009 Team Stats
Rushing Offense: 181.38 (33rd in nation, 2nd in conference)
Passing Offense: 235.00 (43, 5)
Total Offense: 416.38 (31, 4)
Scoring Offense: 32.92 (18, 2)
Rushing Defense: 130.85 (43, 3)
Pass Defense: 261.62 (109, 8)
Total Defense: 392.46 (80, 4)
Scoring Defense: 25.85 (62, 4)
Turnover Margin: .77 (10, 2)
Sacks: 2.69 (18, 2)
Sacks Allowed: 1.23 (21, 2)


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