The scouting report is back baby! It’s a little abbreviated due to not having a ton of time nor there being a ton of film available on Southern Miss but it’s better than nothing right?
From 1994 to 2007 Jeff Bower produced a winning record every season for the Golden Eagles. Larry Fedora took over things in 2008 and took them to even greater heights including 12-2 campaign in 2011 before bolting for Chapel Hill.
Then disaster struck in the form of Ellis Johnson.
Somehow after going 12-2 in 2011, Johnson lead Southern Miss to a horrific 0-12 year in his one campaign as the Golden Eagles’ head coach. He was understandably ousted (landing on the Plains as I am sure you are all aware) and replaced by Todd Monken. The first two years under Monken were ROUGH but somewhat improved with a 1-11 campaign in 2013 and a 3-9 year in 2014. In 2015, things finally clicked and Southern Miss returned to being a formidable G5 force going 9-5 and winning the C-USA West Division title. Chip Lindsey played a major role in that rebuild running the offense with Monken in 2014 and 2015.
But after that strong year Monken returned to the NFL as Tampa Bay’s offensive coordinator while Lindsey made the jump to the Power 5 at Arizona State. Jay Hopson, an Ole Miss alum, took over and has finally given this Southern Miss program some stability of sorts though the season’s themselves have included wild highs and frustrating lows.
So far in 2018, it’s hard to know really how good or not good is this Southern Miss squad. Their one big time matchup (Appalachian State) was cancelled due to Hurricane Florence and they have gone 2-1 against arguably the easiest schedule in the country (Jackson State, ULM, Rice). Saturday will be a major step up in competition for this team.
The Golden Eagles offense is run by former Hal Mumme acolyte Shannon Dawson. Once one of the hottest OC names in college football, Dawson’s name has lost some luster in the CFB world recently after a miserable stint in Lexington where they still seem to have some bad feelings towards him. But he might be finding his footing again in Hattiesburg as his offense currently ranks #8 in the country in passing. Having worked under Mumme and Dana Holgerson it shouldn’t come as a surprise the Golden Eagles’ deploy one of the most effective passing attacks in the country. The Tigers secondary will be busy Saturday afternoon.
The trigger man for this offense is quarterback Jack Abraham. The JUCO transfer won the starting job after returning starter Kwadre Griggs was suspended indefinitely from the team earlier this fall. Interestingly, last week he was reinstated so there’s a chance if Abraham struggles we could see Griggs this weekend.
As for Abraham, he’s not going to wow you with many throws or flashes of athleticism but it’s clear he understands this offense and can execute it at a high level. So far this season he’s already thrown for over 1,000 yards and 10 touchdowns while only being picked off 3 times. He’s not the most mobile of QBs so I do expect Auburn to put up some nice sack numbers this weekend but this offense also gets the ball out so quickly that it might neutralize some of Auburn’s pass rush. It will be interesting to see how Steele attacks Abraham. Does he drop into more zone looks to force Abraham through his progressions and hopefully the 4 man rush gets home? Or does he continue his intense blitz campaign to force the young signal caller to get the ball out quickly and possibly make a mistake? I suspect we will see more of the latter.
This offense has plenty of weapons on the outside, most notably redshirt sophomore Quez Watkins. The Alabama native is 5th in the nation in receptions per game (8) and scoring (12) while also ranking 6th nationally in receiving touchdowns (5). On the year he’s caught 24 passes for 304 yards and 5 touchdowns. Expect Abraham to target him early and often. While not a speedster he’s got a long frame, outstanding hands and has a knack for getting open. On 3rd down situations this is the guy Abraham wants to find.
Filling out the receiving corps are sophomores Jaylond Adams and Tim Jones along with junior speedster De’Michael Harris. These three have combined for 33 catches on the year for 352 yards and 3 touchdowns. Keep an eye on Harris who is a big play waiting to happen. He’s averaging over 16 yards per catch.
This might be the weakest rushing attack Auburn has faced this season. Ricky Parks’s younger brother Tez is the Golden Eagles leading rusher this season with only 107 yards on 31 attempts. He’s powerful kid at 6’1” 202 lbs but lacks any sort of speed to pull away from the defense. Given the fact Auburn is one of the best run defenses in the country, have proven vulnerable to big plays through the air and the fact that Southern Miss has one of the best passing attacks in the country, I don’t expect Parks to get a bunch of touches.
It’s hard to judge this Southern Miss offensive line up to this point as they haven’t exactly faced the most stout of fronts so far this season. Veterans Ty Pollard and Drake Dorbeck hold down the right side and are probably the strength of this group while youngsters Woodylson Alcius (fantastic name), Arvin Fletcher and Trace Clopton have all acquitted themselves well early as new starters but this weekend will be the first real test.
Expect Southern Miss to use mostly 11 and 10 personnel this weekend to try and spread the Tigers out. I don’t expect them to take many deep shots in order to protect Abraham from the pass rush but instead will look to dink and dunk it all over the field. Don’t be surprised if Southern Miss churns out some drives between the 20 yard lines but as long as the defense doesn’t have any major busts leading to a quick score, I think this group is going to have a hard time putting the ball in the endzone.
Jay Hopson is a defensive guy at heart having made his way up the ranks as a defensive coach. No surprise then that under Hopson the Golden Eagles have consistently fielded some salty units on that side of the ball. They deploy a hybrid 3-5-3/4-4-3 scheme that relies on giving the offense a lot of different eye candy pre snap and uses lots of different stunts, twists and blitzes post snap to get penetration and disrupt the opposing offensive attack. I should note that this Golden Eagles defense has only produced 2 sacks all season. Jarrett Stidham should have time in the pocket (or at least he better have time) to hit some big plays in the passing game.
Southern Miss’s three down lineman aren’t the biggest guys in the world. DE Jacques Turner (6’1” 247), NT LaDarius Harris (6’1” 280) and DT DeMarrio Smith (6’2” 264) aren’t exactly the same type of space eaters that Auburn faced in LSU and Washington. Auburn’s offensive line should be able to get great movement at the point of attack however it’s critical pre snap they understand their assignments. Southern Miss is going to give them a lot of different looks that maybe they haven’t dealt with much this season. With a redshirt freshman making his 2nd career start at center that will be something to watch for sure.
At the 2nd level, the Golden Eagles have two true stack linebackers in middle linebacker Jeremy Sangster (leading tackler) and strongside linebacker Racheem Boothe. On the outside, they have very different type of backers. Darian Yancy plays the “Wolf” spot which is similarish to Auburn’s Buck position in that he will sometimes line up as a DE while other times he will stand up as a true backer. He might even be asked to spread out wide and cover in space but for the most part he’s kept to the weak side of the field and asked to help with the pass rush.
On the other side, there’s the “Rover” Ky’el Hemby who is more of a hybrid safety/linebacker who patrols the strongside of the field along with nickel corner Picasso Nelson. That’s not a lot of size on the field for the Golden Eagles but that shouldn’t come as a surprise considering the type of offensive attacks Southern Miss typically faces in C-USA. Don’t be surprised if Auburn tries to put a bit more beef on the field Saturday to use their size advantage to get the run game going.
Southern Miss utilizes field and boundary cornerbacks. The boundary cornerback Ty Williams is responsible for the outside wide receiver lined up on the short side of the field which will more than likely be Darius Slayton the majority of the time. They often ask him to handle these responsibilities all on his own and it will be interesting to see if Auburn tries to attack him despite Williams being their best corner. The Golden Eagles tend to use more zone defense to the strong side of the field with field cornerback Rachaun Mitchell and free safety Xavier Marion. Expect a lot of 1 high safety looks with Mitchell bailing deep.
This is the game things need to get going for this offense. Auburn should have no problem moving these dudes off the point of the attack and opening up running lanes for the Tigers’ tailbacks. They should also have no trouble giving Jarrett Stidham he needs to make some plays in the passing game. This Auburn team and this Auburn fanbase are in great need of a dominant performance on ALL sides of the ball this Saturday to gain some confidence heading into a road trip to Starkville next week.