It’s finally here. After months of waiting, crying, wishing away precious time for football season to be here, it’s finally here. Tomorrow night the Golden Eagles will step on the field to take on Kentucky to start off what many are hopeful will be a great season for Southern Miss. At the end of every game, we’ll look back and try to figure out who made an impact and who ended up being an important piece to what transpired on the field for the Golden Eagles. Each week I’ll try to pick out a few players that I think are important to keep an eye on for the Eagles from week to week. Five players to watch against Kentucky:
5. Nick Mullens-
Is it a little obvious to put a guy like Mullens on a list of players to watch? Sure. But in the end he is the glue that holds the offense together, and seeing how he adjusts to a new cast of characters will be one of the biggest story lines for the game against Kentucky. How will Mullens look without his two top targets from last season and two new tackles protecting him from the Kentucky pass-rush? These are key questions that will be answered on Saturday.
4. Elijah Parker-
Underrated. That’s the one word I would use to describe Parker. He was a top five tackler last year and looks to be a possible breakout player for the Golden Eagles. Look, we all know Kentucky is going to have a solid run game. This game may very well come down to Southern Miss’ ability to slow it down. The fact of the matter is there are going to be some plays where Kentucky’s running backs get to the second level. The key is going to be stopping them there and not letting every run turn into a big gain. Parker is going to need to be that guy to step up and pile up the tackles for the Golden Eagles on Saturday.
3. Isaiah Jones-
Losing guys the likes of Mike Thomas and Casey Martin. It’s been the biggest story line for the Golden Eagles since spring football began: How does the team replace the two biggest producers at the receiver position? It starts with the veteran DJ Thompson, but what after that? Who will step up and be a second option for Nick Mullens? In steps a 6’ 4” 200 pound outside threat from Last Chance U to calm the fears of Golden Eagle fans. Let’s see on Saturday if Jones will step in and show some of the promise in game action that he’s shown in practice throughout fall camp.
2. Jerry McCorvey-
Insert all the reasons Elijah Parker is a player to watch except needing to stop the run up front. With Draper Riley on the shelf for this game and possibly beyond, that leaves the Golden Eagles defensive line very thin, and without much size. Kentucky has a massive offensive line, and it’s going to be up to McCorvey and Dylan Bradley to step up and make some plays. We all know Bradley is one of the top players on this Golden Eagle defense, but what is McCorvey going to bring? That’s a big question heading into Saturday.
1. Wil Freeman-
The meteoric rise of Freeman from the spring to now has been nothing short of astonishing. When he debuted at tackle in the spring, my first thought was maybe with a lot of work he can develop into a swing tackle that comes in on jumbo sets to spring Ito Smith on the edge. Then, out of nowhere, Freeman jumped into the starting left-tackle role very early in fall camp. He certainly looks the part of an offensive tackle, and has had a solid camp blocking some of the Golden Eagles’ top pass-rushers in practice. Will he be able to stand tall and protect the blind side of the star quarterback? That is perhaps the biggest question facing the Golden Eagles. We’ll find out on Saturday.
The Golden Eagles will need these five to step up and make an impact on Saturday, along with a few others, if Southern Miss is going to walk away with a season opening win against the Wildcats. Football season is here, and it’s going to be glorious. The expectations are high, and the road starts Saturday night in Lexington.