Southern Miss Insider with Drew White of Golden Eagle Pride.
Southern Miss is much improved this season, what has changed this season from last?
Several things have changed to make Southern Miss much improved this season. One is the depth on the team that hasn't existed before this season. Southern Miss brought in a lot of JuCo prospects who have been big contributors this season, and also brought in about 5 D1 transfers who have filled in holes and provided immediate help. Bringing in the strength and conditioning coordinator of the year last year Zac Woodfin has also brought about a change in culture. He worked hard on the mindset of the players of turning around the negative energy that still existed, and the locker room is a much more positive place. Finally, continuity with the coaching staff. Todd Monken's staff has been here for three years, and that has a huge impact because the year Monken came the team was on its third coach in three years. The system is in place, the players know it and finally are feeling comfortable.
What is the game day atmosphere like in Hattiesburg? What kind of environment can UTSA expect to face Saturday?
Southern Miss has a fun tailgating scene on campus and some of the friendliest fans in the world who will welcome anyone in. The Rock used to be a really tough place to play, and is starting to get back to that environment. The losing seasons of the past three years took a toll and fans are slowly starting to trickle back. When the Rock is full, it can be a very loud place. The first game of the year against Mississippi State was as lively as it has been in many years. It is homecoming so it should be a good crowd with a lot going on campus.
How good is QB Nick Mullens? Is he what makes the offense go? What other offensive players are key to watch?
QB Nick Mullens can be really dangerous when given time in the pocket. He is a good leader and has very good connection with his wide receivers. He has put up some eye popping numbers and was among the leaders in C-USA with 2005 yards, 15 TD's and 4 INT's. The play of the offensive line will determine how the offense is able to go. If they are giving Mullens time and opening holes for the three talented RB's, Southern Miss can be deadly on offense. They put up a lot of points on Mississippi State, Nebraska, Texas State, and North Texas. Marshall gave them problems with the blitz last week though. Also watch for RB Ito Smith, and WR Michael Smith as two of the best play makers on the team.
What’s the USM defense like? Who will be some of the playmakers?
The USM defense played its best game against Marshall last week. They have had problems against running QB's who have piled up some good numbers on the ground. They also don't put a lot of pressure on the QB which has been a focus in practice. They are deeper in the front seven, and that has helped a lot because the tackling has been better. Watch for #12 D'Nerius Antione, S, who is all over the field and seemingly in every play. Also, Senior CB Kalan Reed has had a few INT's and is a play maker.
Looking at UTSA, what are some of the things Southern Miss will need to do to be successful?
I think of the biggest things USM has to do is not to look at UTSA's record, which is deceiving. If USM comes out flat looking at a 1-5 team, they will be in trouble because UTSA has played such a tremendous schedule. Most teams would be 1-5 with that schedule to start the year. They will need to be ready to defend Jarveon Williams, who UTSA will look to establish early in the game. Also, the turnover battle could tell the tale in this one. USM is expecting a tough fight from a team desperate for a win to stay alive for a bowl game.