Fedora has been well received in Hattiesburg so far. He recruited well with his first class, and will no doubt have the Golden Eagle Offense soaring in the near future. But Defense was the Achilles heel for USM last year. And some close to the program say it will take a couple years before USM can even hope to be in a position to dominate teams the way they once did with their fast, aggressive, and talented defenses.
Southern Miss still has a handful of stars on Defense, but doesn't quite have the talent and depth its used to having in certain areas – particularly the Defensive Line. They are somewhat young there, particularly at Defensive End.
Here's a more in depth look at the USM unit.
POS ## DEFENSE
DE 90 Terrance Pope, 6-3 275
NT 92 Eric Phillips, 6-7 290
DT 93 Logan Hickman, 6-3 245
ROCK 45 Roshaad Byrd, 6-3 247
WLB 41 Tokumbo Abanikanda, 6-0 224
MLB 24 Gerald McRath, 6-3 220
SLB 32 Martez Smith, 6-0 211
BC 23 Eddie Willingham, 5-10 174
BS 30 Chico Hunter, 6-0 195
FS 18 Eddie Hicks, 6-2 183
FC 20 C.J. Bailey, 5-10 189
Star of the Show - Linebacker Gerald McGrath. He is the leader of the defense and one of the best defenders in C-USA.
Leading Tackler - No surprise, it's McGrath. He's already got 63 tackles at the midway point of the season.
Strength of Unit - Southern Miss' strength is their Linebackers behind McGrath. Martez Smith and Tokumbo Abanikanda are a bit undersized but fast and active. Abanikanda is 3rd on the team in tackles with 44, but leads the team in tackles for loss with 6.5.
Players to Watch - USM is strong in the middle of the field. Besides McGrath and Abanikanda, Safety Chico Hunter is always around the ball. He is second on the team in tackles, but also defends the pass well with a team leading 5 pass break-ups. The other USM Safety, Eddie Hicks is 4th on the team in tackles.
Rising Star? - Sophomore Noseguard Anthony Gray leads the team in sacks with 4.5. He's one of the strongest players on the team with a bench press of over 500 pounds. At 6-0 311 though he has problems playing 4 quarters and is rotating in as a result.
Inside the Numbers - Southern Miss has given up an average of 398 yards of Offense per game. They've given up 181 yards rushing per game and 217 yards passing. USM is a heavily penalized team – an average of almost 82 yards a game. They've consistently been flagged for late hits and pass interference.
USM Defensive Keys to the Game - Its no secret that Chase Clement makes the Rice Offense tick. If Southern Miss can disrupt his rhythm, the Offense will have to alter its strategy.
Rice has had 2 weeks to prepare for Southern Miss, valuable time for the return of Running Back Justin Hill. USM will remember Hill – he had a 54 yard touchdown against them last year. If Rice can run against the young Southern Miss Defensive Line they can obviously stress the Golden Eagle Secondary into compromised coverages against the potent Owl Receiving tandem of Jarett Dillard and James Casey.
Rice Offense Keys to the Game
Rice has the weapons to beat Southern Miss, they must play within their game plan though. Chase Clement has to have time to throw, and when he does he need to stay poised. Clement has been outstanding at Rice, but the Johnny Unitas Award Semi-Finalist tends to get amped up at times and doesn't throw as accurately when he does. Sounds like stating the obvious but the Owls just need to score points in big quantities – the USM Offense has a freshman Quarterback, putting him into a catchup scenario will obviously help the Owl Defense, which we'll talk about tomorrow…