Week 3: Southern Mississippi

Jeff Bower has built a strong program at Southern Mississippi, and his Golden Eagles host NC State looking to pull out the victory.

BACKGROUND
Location:
Hattiesburg, Miss.
Enrollment:
11,779
Nickname:
Golden Eagles
School Colors:
Black & Gold
Stadium:
M.M. Roberts (33,000)
Conference:
C-USA

TEAM
Head Coach:
Jeff Bower
Record at SMU:
103-73-1 (16 years)
2005 Record:
7-5
2005 Bowl:
New Orleans Bowl vs. Arkansas State (W, 31-19)
Starters Returning:
14 (8 offense, 6 defense)
2006 Record:
1-1
2006 AP Ranking:
None

Southern Miss. Scouting Report

DEFENSE

Southern Mississippi has always been known for having a solid defense. Playing them early provides coaches with an honest assessment of what might lie ahead when the bell sounds for conference play to begin.

The Golden Eagles lost their top two tacklers from a year ago. Linebacker Kevis Coley and his twin brother Trevis Coley almost got an opportunity to play near home. The former Palatka (FL) High School stars combined for 259 stops, 13.5 tackles for loss, five sacks, two interceptions, two forced fumbles, and four fumble recoveries.

Front Seven
USM returns only four starters along their front seven. Two of the returning starters are at defensive end and the others at linebacker. Bandit end Robert Henderson (6-3 280) is the leading returning tackler (47), tackles for loss leader (7.5), and he tied for the overall team lead in sacks last season with five. Henderson has good strength and size for a bandit end. He has pretty good speed and some quickness. He started seven games last season for Southern Miss.

Playing opposite is redshirt senior Matt Chatelain (6-2 247) who doesn't possess the speed, quickness, or strength of Henderson, but has a motor that never stops. Chatelain started the entire season in '05 and saw significant action two years ago as a reserve.

Inside the Golden Eagles will play noseguard Sean Merrill (6-3 294) and defensive tackle Martavious Prince (6-3 286). Merrill is a former LSU signee, who transferred to Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College where he earned defensive MVP honors in the conference. Merrill is an aggressive player who goes hard all day. Prince saw limited action last season. He plays the run well, but is not established as a pass rusher.

Experience is at a minimum for the Golden Eagles at linebacker. Strongside linebacker James Denley (6-2 235) took over when current middle linebacker Gerald McRath suffered an injury in the Golden Eagles third game of the 2005 season. Denley continued to improve and won the job this spring. Denley is a solid, but unspectacular player.

The Southern Miss coaches moved McRath from his strongside linebacker position to the Mike to fill the void left when Kevis Coley completed his eligibility. The redshirt freshman hasn't really had an opportunity to demonstrate his abilities other than on the practice field.

Southern Miss will use a pair of players at the Will. Sophomore Tokumbo Abanikanda (6-0 213) is expected to provide playmaking abilities and athleticism for the Eagles. He saw limited action, but had his finest performance in the New Orleans Bowl. Meanwhile redshirt senior Wayne Hardy (6-0 235) returns as the second man off the bench after starting 12 games last season. The former fullback was the Golden Eagles fifth leading tackler in '05.

Through two games, Denley paces the defense with 15 tackles and two tackles for a loss.

Secondary
Rover Brandon Sumrall (5-11 195) is the leader of the Southern Miss secondary and the team's defense. Sumrall finished behind the Coley twins on the tackles list, and the junior will be starting his third season as a starter in the Golden Eagles secondary. Sumrall has a tremendous combination of speed and is a punishing hitter. He is one of the best safeties in the country and is off to an outstanding start. Through two games, Sumrall has tallied 11 tackles, two sacks, three forced fumbles, and an interception.

Starting alongside him in the backfield is junior LeVance Richmond (5-11 200). The former Lake Wales (Fla) product starred at Pearl River Community College where he helped them win the national championship, earned first team All-American honors, and led the nation with 13 interceptions two years ago. Richmond redshirted last season after transferring to Southern Miss.

The Golden Eagles have a returning cornerback in senior Caleb Hendrix (5-10 185) who mans the boundary corner. The senior is a two year starter who possesses a lot of speed and quickness. Hendrix tied for the team lead with six breakups last season. Fellow senior Jasper Faulk has played extensively over the past three seasons. He has not tallied many starts, because he has struggled at times in coverage, lacking consistency. Faulk is dangerous when he makes plays though, and he has a lot of athleticism.

OFFENSE

Jeff Bower always has the USM ofense ready. USM is very good on the offensive side of the ball. Many of them have played a lot of football and they're always up for a contest against high-major teams.

Offensive Line
The Southern Miss offensive line returns largely intact with only sophomore right tackle Ryan McKee (6-6 286) as the newcomer among the starters. Right guard George Batiste (6-5 300) is the leader of the group. Batiste is easily the most physically dominating member of the squad. The senior was redshirted as a freshman and earned a starting position the following spring. In fact, he has started all 35 games of his collegiate career and did not allow a sack last season. Batiste is on the Outland Award List.

Redshirt senior center Robbie D'Angelo (6-2 280) saw considerable action as a sophomore before taking over as a full-time starter last season in which he too didn't allow a sack. D'Angelo is on the Rimington Watch List.

Left guard Travis Cooley (6-2 295) started nine games before injuring his patella tendon last season against Memphis. He sat out the entire spring, but has been cleared to play this fall. Cooley is also a redshirt senior who has started 26 games in his USM career. He allowed only one sack last season. Like Batiste and D'Angelo, he too was named to several pre-season all-conference teams. Left tackle Chris Clark (6-5 295) started all 12 games last season, after playing in 10 games the previous year. Clark allowed only 3.5 sacks in 2005.

Skill Positions
Southern Mississippi's quarterback derby didn't quite go as expected. Stephen Reaves (6-1 210) spent much of the spring still trying to return from a knee injury suffered while running the scout team last fall. Reaves limited mobility bolstered Jeremy Young's grip on the starting job.

Jeremy Young

He stamped his name atop the depth chart with a solid performance in the Golden Eagles spring game. Young (6-3 215) did nothing to lose his place since practice resumed in August.

Young has played sparingly the past two seasons. He saw action in six games, including one start in 2004 and participated in only 30 plays last year. Young has completed 23 of 55 for 275 yards. He has not thrown a touchdown pass, while lofting two interceptions. He is most dangerous running the football.

Young and Reaves have been solid but unspectacular through two games. Young has completed 18-of-34 passes for 235 yards with two touchdowns and three interceptions. Reaves has completed 10-of-19 passes for 133 yards.

The Golden Eagles return most of their skill position players. All three of their top receivers from one year ago return. Tight end Shawn Nelson, flanker Josh Barnes, and split end Anthony Perine combined for 98 receptions and 12 touchdowns, while accounting for nearly half (48.7%) of the Golden Eagles reception yards per game.

Nelson is a big target who thrives making receptions over the middle. Barnes has the quickness and is the big playmaker. Perine is among the fastest on the squad and runs very disciplined routes. Senior Damion Carter has speed, quickness, and playmaking ability. However, he doesn't have much experience.

As expected, Nelson is the leading receiver, as the tight end has seven catches for 104 yards. Carter has recorded four catches for 88 yards and both of the team's receiving touchdowns, and Fletcher has added four catches for 60 yards.

The surprise on offense has been the emergence of true freshman Damion Fletcher (5-10 176). Fletcher is averaging 102.5 yards per game and has two touchdowns, and is electrifying with the ball in his hands. Larry Thomas, a part-time starter in 2005, is also back, and he is the top reserve.

SPECIAL TEAMS

The most decorated player at Southern Mississippi is senior placekicker Darren McCaleb. The four year starter has already broken the school's all-time scoring record (255), single season (kicking) scoring record (107), and holds the school mark for career percentage at .827%.

In 2005, McCaleb hit 23-of-28 (82.1%) field goal attempts. He was the nation's fourth ranked kicker with 1.92 attempts per game. As you might imagine, McCaleb has been named to a couple pre-season All-American teams and virtually every pre-season all conference first team.

McCaleb does not kick from distance. However, he is automatic from inside forty yards. He missed field goals from 41, 44, 45, 48, and 50 yards last season. He hit 10-of-14 attempts from 40-49 yards. His long was 47 yards, but he has already topped that this season, drilling a 50-yard attempt.

Punter Britt Barefoot has been outstanding. Barefoot, a sophomore, has several first-year duties including, punting, kickoffs, and holding for McCaleb. Barefoot played as a true freshman in 2004 when he kicked off 17 times in four games, but he redshirted last season. He is averaging 46.8 yards per punt with a long of 52 yards.

Senior cornerback Jasper Faulk returns to handle the Golden Eagles punt return duties. He has returned one punt for 8 yards.

Faulk will also assume the kickoff return duties with junior Brandon Sumrall. Sumrall is leading the team in kickoff returns, as he has gained 59 yards on four attempts.

Southern Miss. Game Notes

Bower In Elite Southern Miss Company
Southern Miss' game against Florida was Jeff Bower's 177th game as head coach of the Golden Eagles. Only Thad "Pie" Vann had coached in at least 100 games for Southern Miss. In Bower's 177 games as a head coach, 36 of them have been against ranked teams and only seven of those games have been at home.

Twelve of those 36 opponents have been in the top 10, and eight have been in the top five. In his 177 games, he is 103-73-1; only 70 of those have been at home, where he sports a 55-15 record, a 43-56-1 on the road and a 5-2 record at neutral sites.

September's Record
Under the direction of Jeff Bower, Southern Miss has posted a 30-21 record in the month of September, 19-4 at home, 11-13 on the road and 0-4 at neutral locations. Overall, the Golden Eagles are 107-81 in the month of September, 63- 13 at home, 34-50 on the road and 10-18 at neutral sites.

2006 Coaching Staff
The Southern Miss coaching staff for the 2006 season looks much like last season with one exception. Defensive Coordinator Jay Hopson returns to Southern Miss for his second season. He coached the defensive backs from 2001-03, before leaving a year for Ole Miss. After coaching the tight ends in 2003 and the running backs in 2004, Jay Johnson is in his second year as the offensive coordinator. Hopson will coach the middle linebacks and Johnson will coach the quarterbacks. Assistant Head Coach Randy Butler continues for his second season as the tight ends coach and recruiting coordinator after coaching the defensive line for the previous nine years. Former Southern Miss standout running back Derrick Nix oversees running backs for the second straight year after coaching the tight ends in 2004. Courtney Messingham is in his second year as the wide receivers coach after a two-year stint as the head coach at Upper Iowa. Mitch Rodrigue once again will be back for his eighth season and third as the offensive line coach. Josh Eargle is in his first year as the offensive graduate assistant. Bill Wilt is the lone new coach on the staff and will supervise the defensive line. Former Golden Eagle defensive lineman Fred Tate is in his second year on the staff and moves to directing the outside linebackers. Lytrel Pollard continues the responsibility of coaching all the linebackers this year, remaning as the special teams coordinator. Keith Pigott is the defensive graduate assistant.

All-Conference USA Golden Eagles
Southern Miss placed 11 players on the all-conference teams in 2005, with five first-team selections. All-American Kevis Coley (LB) headline the list of firstteam selections. Also named to the first team were George Batiste (OL), Trevis Coley (DB), Luke Johnson (P) and John Eubanks (KR).

The second team consisted of Travis Cooley (OL), Tom Johnson (DL), Brandon Sumrall (DB) and Darren McCaleb (PK), while Shawn Nelson (TE) earned third-team honors and made the all-freshman first team.

Everyone's All-American
For nine-straight years, Southern Miss has produced at least one All- American as four Golden Eagles received that honor in 2005. Shawn Nelson was named to the College FootballNews.com Freshman All-American team, while also getting tabbed third team Freshman All-America by The Sporting News.

Brandon Sumrall was named to CollegeFootballNews.com's Sophomore All- American team. Kevis Coley, Darren McCaleb and Luke Johnson all made third team All-America by SI.com.

Conference Tradition
Southern Miss is in its 15th year of conference football affiliation in this the program's 90th year. The Golden Eagles were members of the Gulf States Conference from 1948- 51 and have been a founding member of Conference USA in 1996. In the 14 years of conference affiliation, Southern Miss has won seven conference championships, three in the Gulf States Conference and four in CUSA. Southern Miss won the Gulf States Championship in 1948, 1950 and 1951 and Conference USA in 1996 (shared), 1997, 1999 and 2003.

The Rock
Under the direction of Jeff Bower, Southern Miss has posted a 55-15 record (.786) in home games at M. M. Roberts Stadium, also known as the "The Rock." Overall, the Golden Eagles are 107-35 (.754) in home games since the stadium was dedicated as M.M. Roberts Stadium on September 25, 1976.

Top Crowds at The Rock
The Southern Miss - Nebraska game in 2003 broke the single-game attendance record at The Rock when 36,152 fans attended the game. That mark broke the old record set in 2002, when 35,169 fans attended the Jackson State game. The previous largest crowd under Jeff Bower was 33,233 against Texas A&M on Sept. 19, 1998.

Five Golden Eagles Earn Preseason All-Conference USA Honors
Five Golden Eagles, senior offensive linemen George Batiste and Travis Cooley, senior defensive back Caleb Hendrix, senior kicker Darren McCaleb and sophomore tight end Shawn Nelson were all tabbed preseason All- Conference USA by the league's coaches. In addition, McCaleb was named the preseason Special Teams Player of the Year.

All five players earn preseason recognition for the first time in their careers.

Press Conference Quotables

Jeff Bower
Opening Statement
"We played well in the game. We had a chance to play a lot of players, and that is always good. I thought we performed well. I thought our effort was good. I was very pleased with our wide receivers. That was the best effort I've seen them play with in a long time. That's the way you've got to approach and play every game at that position. I'm sure that some of the runs we broke, we had help downfield blocking, but we got after it blocking. It was much better. They can be better, but it was better than we've seen. Offensively, the major concern after two weeks is that we've turned it over too many times. We've got to protect the football. I thought we played well defensively. We played a lot of three down linemen, because of what they did. We felt that we had to take the pass away from them. We didn't think they could beat us running the ball. They did run the ball well at time, because we got out of our gaps and missed some tackles. I thought it was a good performance there. It was a good solid win for us, and a good opportunity to play a lot of players. Larry Thomas came in and ran the ball well. I saw a lot of good things, but I saw some things that we need to improve on and get better at."

Players Of The Week:
"On offense, it was Damion Carter. He played 20 snaps and graded 80 percent, catching three passes for 82 yards and a touchdown. He really gave us good effort. Defensively, it was Brandon Sumrall. He played 48 snaps and graded 81 percent. He made four tackles, forced two fumbles, a sack and a tackle for loss. He was very productive again. On special teams, it was Britt Barefoot. He had four kickoffs in the end zone and a punt for 51 yards. He did a good job."

On Injuries:
"We're pretty healthy. I think we're going to hold George Batiste out of practice today. He turned an ankle and he has some swelling. I'm hoping he'll be back at practice tomorrow. Other than that, we have a few minor injuries, but nothing that will keep anyone from practice."

On N.C. State
"They are a scary football team. They're athletic and talented. They are playing very well on defense. They're only giving up 257 yards per game. They are physical and athletic. It will be a physical game, I assure you of that. They are probably not feeling too good about themselves after the loss to Akron. We'll see a good football team coming in here with a lot of talent. They will make you prepare very hard this week in order to win. We've got to do some things better and play a physical game against them. I'm impressed with them. Their running back is a big time player. He's averaging 7.5 yards per carry. He got banged up in the last game and didn't play a lot. I don't know the extent of his injury, but he's very talented."

On Mitch Craft's Return:
"Yes, he is back. Right now, our plans are to start him. We're going to move Gerald McRath over to strong side. We will look at Craft and Jerome Lyons at the middle. Lyons has come on played pretty well. We'll look at both of those guys, and we've got McRath and James Denley at strong-side."

On McRath's Move Back To Strong-Side:
"He's better on the edge than he is in the middle."

On Marcus Raines Moving To Defensive End:
"We've been working him at defensive end. We worked him a lot there last week, and got him in the game for about 10 snaps there. He did some good things."

On Any Other Moves:
"That's pretty much it."

On How Much Confidence Can Be Taken From Last Week's Game:
"We did some things well in the game. Certainly, you gain some confidence. We out-manned them. That's not to down-grade them. They played hard and did some good things. They've got some good players. We knew we'd have to play well in the game. I guess I'll find out more this week. Now you're playing a team that's really talented, is very physical, can run and does good things on both sides of the ball. We needed to have a game like that to get a good feel about ourselves. This will be a real test this week."

On Last Year's N.C. State Game:
"We were in a position to win, but we didn't do it. If we don't tackle any better than we did last week and last year, their back will get as many yards as he did last year."

On N.C. State Losing To Akron:
"The thing you have to understand, N.C. State has played two good teams. Appalachian St., was the 1-AA Champion last year, and Akron won the MAC last year. Akron is a good football team. We played them last year, we know what kind of talent they have. There's a lot of respect for this group. They've got good coaches and they'll correct problems. I look at their ability and what they put on the field. They're impressive."

On N.C. State Losing A Lot From Last Year's Defense:
"They are still pretty darn good. Their two tackles are very good. They are a playing a lot of guys there. They are good on defense and good in the secondary. They're not giving up a lot in the secondary. In two games, opponents have completed 18-of-48 passes for 165 yards per game. That's not real good. They play a lot of man coverage in the secondary. This is a huge week for your receivers getting open and beating man coverage."

On Mitch Craft Starting:
"I don't want to jump the gun on that. I haven't talked to our coaches about that yet. I know he's back. We'll probably look at Jerome Lyons and Craft both this week and see how they practice."

On How Jerome Lyons Did In The Middle:
"He did pretty well."

On If Gerald McRath Starts At Strong-Side:
"I don't know. Gerald hasn't been healthy. He's not moving around like he's capable of. I think his hamstring is bothering him. We've got to get full speed."

On Stephen Reaves And Playing Two Quarterbacks:
"I don't have a plan for that. We were going to get Stephen Reaves into the game. I don't think anything is set in stone. We've got two guys that can play. Stephen did some good things and played well."

On The Defensive Line:
"They're playing ok. Martavius Prince is playing well. We've got to get the rest of them up a level."

On If Playing Four Down Linemen Is Possible This Week:
"I don't know. We're still looking at them. We'll do what we feel like we've got to do."

On The N.C. State Game Plan:
"We're still in the process of looking. You've got to play physical against them. They don't give up many points, and didn't last year. They're very good in the kicking game. Their kickoff returner is a preseason All-American. He's very good. They are very sound in the kicking game."

On Kickoff And Punt Returns:
"We've got be more productive with our return units, both punt and kickoff. We haven't been a lot of yards there. We need to make some things happen there. I don't think it's the returner. We're a little bit off. We only had one kickoff return. We did ok. We were close, but we've got to get 11 guys doing their job. On the punt return unit, we didn't have a lot of opportunity. I thought we should have blocked two, we had one partially blocked by Ivory Bradshaw. I think it ended up being the longest punt of the night. We had a block on earlier, and if we were ready to go, we would've blocked it. We were late. There's no excuse for that. We had a guy come through clean, but he was late. We've got to do some better things there. We've got to get more yards on our kickoff return and punt block and return units."

On The Kickoff Coverage Unit:
"We put Mam Nyang in there. That was his first week to start. He did a good job and caused a fumble."

On If It Is Getting Harder To Schedule High Caliber Non-Conference Games In Hattiesburg:
"I don't know who's coming in. We fell into the N.C. State game after they got bought out. That's how we got the home and home. I'm not sure what we've got coming up. This is a good football team. This is the type of game the fans wanted in Hattiesburg. Here they come. There are some good conference teams coming in here. We're going to always play a tough schedule."


Southern Miss head coach Jeff Bower


Southern Miss media relations and Mark McLeod contributed to this report.


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