Questions and answers from Drew White, publisher of GoldenEaglePride.com
How has Southern Miss been able to adapt so well under a new coaching staff?
"There were several factors that led to a very smooth transition from Coach Monken to Coach Hopson. One, the strength and conditioning staff remained in place and continued to work the team during the transition. That seemed to not only hold the team together, but also to continue their growth in a familiar program. Also, the team has a lot of returning experience in key positions (QB, interior offensive line, RB). Coach Hopson didn't come in and try to reinvent the wheel, he simply kept a similar offensive system in place while making a few tweaks in the defensive line that have really paid dividends. Finally, Coach Hopson has coached the defense before at Southern Miss, so he's very acclimated to the culture of the program. He's a "Southern Miss" guy and that has really benefited him with the fan base and players."
QB Nick Mullens is having another good year. What are the types of things he does well and not so well?
"Nick Mullens is a smart QB who is an excellent leader. The team really responds to him and when he's playing well, the offense is difficult to stop. He's accurate more times than not, and he also knows the system well. He's a 4 year starter and has remained steady through the growing pains of the rebuilding of the program. He has good chemistry with the wide receivers and is one of the hardest working players on the team. The best thing to say about Nick is that he's a winner, and he's brought the program from the depths of despair to a regular contender for the conference title. He's struggled this year with INT's and forcing passes that haven't always been there. When he's been off this year, he's been really off. He can tend to panic a bit under pressure and isn't the fleetest on foot. Last year, he had an NFL caliber WR in Mike Thomas who would go up and make plays on 50/50 balls. Losing him has hurt Nick, but he's really developed good chemistry with Allanzae Staggers who put up some video game numbers last week in the win over Rice."
What does Southern Miss like to do offensively? Who are some of the other playmakers on the team besides Mullens?
"Southern Miss likes to go fast, and get their playmakers in space. They will try a few shots downfield and also love the wheel routes to the TE's. Ito Smith has been outstanding, and his effectiveness running the ball has really helped to open up the passing game. OC Shannon Dawson would love to keep the defense off balance with a mix of the pass and run. Allanzae Staggers had 292 yards on receptions last week against Rice. He's really become the go to WR. WR Isaiah Jones started the year off hot but has been quiet the last two games. Ito Smith is a Junior RB who has started since he was a freshman and has really good speed and deceptive moves. Also, Southern Miss has a play maker in TE Julien Allen who can really run and has great hands."
What type of defense does USM run? Who are some of the defensive playmakers?
"Southern Miss runs a version of the 4-2-5, and they line up so atypical that it is difficult at times to figure out who is where. Their defensive linemen do a lot of moving up front pre-snap to try and confuse the defensive line. They are aggressive and really try to get in the backfield and use their speed and quickness to make up for a lack of size up front. Dylan Bradley, senior defensive lineman, is the heart and soul of the defense and is very disruptive. Xavier Thigpen also has made a lot of plays at the defensive end spot. D'Nerius Antione is a hard hitting safety who roams the field and will always be around the ball to make plays."
How do you see this game playing out, what is your final score prediction?
"I really see this game being a hard fought battle to the end. UTSA will be playing a little bit desperate to keep alive bowl hopes, and they are always tough to beat at home. Also, there are some story lines to this game, with the history of some of the staff of UTSA and their connections to Southern Miss, particularly Pete Golding the defensive coordinator. USM and UTSA have battled over recruits lately too, and that always makes things a little more interesting. While I believe it will be close, I think the experience of Southern Miss holds on late. 28-24 USM"