The Other Huddle: Southern Miss

Southern Miss will return to Davis Wade Stadium this Saturday for the first time since 1990. The Golden Eagles enter the 2014 season with hopes that Todd Monken and his staff can take some steps in year two to get the Conference USA power back on track and in bowl contention once again. publisher Drew White was eager to share his thoughts with about what to look for from the Golden Eagles in the season opener for both Mississippi State and Southern Miss this Saturday.

Coach Todd Monken has a reputation for being a solid offensive coach that can put some points on the scoreboard.

White believes year two in the Monken offensive scheme will be a bit more fluid than it was a year ago.

"I expect the USM offense to be much improved for several reasons," explained White. "One, just the return of the same system, language, and scheme for the first time in four years it will be the same.

"Because of the coaching turnover and changes in scheme, USM has been behind the eight ball the past two seasons.

"Also, they will be better up front. The offensive line was a disaster last season, and Coach Monken blew up the room and brought in a new OL coach who has worked from the ground up.

"They've moved Cameron Tom to center, which has solidified the line, then brought in Norman Price from Hinds and Thomas Collins who have added depth and stability.

"Little things, like the offensive line eats together once a week out somewhere, and that just wasn't happening before.

"Coach Monken moving over to coach the receivers, which he coached in the NFL, will significantly improve assignment and alignment which was poor last year.

"The receivers are deep and talented, maybe the best position on the team. Having the same quarterback for the first time in three years returning is huge too.

"Nick Mullens is still young, but he has experience as a true freshman and he's very smart. He knows the system well, too.

"Chip Lindsey, new offensive coordinator, also brings a wealth of knowledge from the Auburn staff where he worked last season to help with the run game."

While the familiarity with the offensive scheme provides a bit of a comfort level for all involved, there are some issues that need to be resolved.

"Two main concerns are the offensive line and depth at running back and quarterback," reports White. "Can the offensive line's improved chemistry form some semblence of a running game that was totally missing last season?

"Can they give Mullens time to throw?

"There are players who have been shifted around, so how will they handle things in a game situation?

"Also, there are only three running backs, and the starter will be true freshman Ito Smith.

"Depth is a concern there and at QB, where the back-up QB has never taken a snap in a game."

Injuries plagued the Golden Eagle defensive unit last fall, but some of those players have rounded back into shape and return for another go at it this season.

"I expect the USM defense to be much improved, simply for the fact their leaders return this season," said White. "Rakeem Nunez, Alan Howze, and Jacorius Cotton all were hurt or ineligible last season, and the Eagles felt the void.

"They all return and just their leadership alone will make a huge difference.

"Look for a more physical style of play, which was a focus this spring and off-season. The lack of physicality last season was evident and changes were made to focus on that again.

"The defensive line has a lot of veterans with several seniors, and I expect to see much better play from them last season.

"Also, the Eagles picked up Brian Anderson, a hard hitting middle linebacker who is a throw back and adds a much needed stopper in the middle."

With some old faces returning to needful positions, there are still some issues that are forcing a youth movement in the defensive backfield.

"There are several concerns on defense," noted White. "The Eagles lost Ed Wilkins, senior corner, to an off the field issue right before camp that really hurt.

"Now, they will play either Trae Collins who is talented but lacks experience, or true freshman Picasso Nelson.

"The safeties are both seniors but the corners are young.

"Linebacker and speed at that position is still a concern too. Alan Howze returns, and Brian Anderson is solid in the middle, but there is no other proven linebacker so depth is an issue too."

Despite going through a rebuilding phase, there is some excitement around the Southern Miss program about return to the field of play to face off against the in state Bulldogs.

"Eagles fans are thrilled with the renewed rivalry with Mississippi State, and grateful the Bulldogs allowed this game to start up again," said White. "The 1-23 over the past two seasons has hurt the excitement of the game, however.

"The Eagles will have to start winning again before this game starts to have more meaning, but with the history and being an in-state game, its a win no matter what the score says at the end of the game.

"Southern Miss has wanted this game back for over 20 years, and though the timing couldn't be worse, they are excited about the opportunity to play Mississippi State."

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