Two years removed from coach Jeff Bower’s conventional style offense, Southern Miss will look to add on to last year’s offensive success in the widely used spread offense. Last year in Coach Larry Fedora’s first season in Hattiesburg, the offense set an abundance of records. Led by QB Austin Davis, RB Damion Fletcher, and WR DeAndre Brown, the Southern Miss offense averaged 30 points a game, while rushing for an average of 192 yards a game, and passing for an average of 241 yards a game. There was a stretch in the middle of the season where USM lost five straight games, and things didn’t look bright for the Golden Eagles; however, towards the end of the season the offense really turned it up and helped lead the team on to a five game winning streak to end the season.
RS Soph. Austin Davis has cemented himself as the starting QB for the Golden Eagles after a freshman season where he completed 57% of his passes and tossed 23 TDs while only throwing 8 INTs. Davis also showed last season that he isn’t scared to pull the ball down and run, as he rushed for 508 yards and 9 TDs. With Davis having a year under his belt, Southern Miss fans should expect to see even better numbers for Austin. He broke numerous school records last season, and should easily break more this year. He has the ability, in Fedora’s offense, to statistically be one of the top 15 QBs in the nation this year.
With the departure of RS Fr. Brett Jeffcoat to Itawamba Community College, the number two spot on the depth chart is locked up by RS Sr. Martavious Young. A career backup who hasn’t seen too much playing time over his career, Young is a mobile athlete that has a live arm. Had Davis not had the season he had last year, Young would have definitely been in the running to get the starting nod this season. The one thing he does have going for him is that he has been around the Southern Miss program for a long time, and he knows what it takes to be successful.
The only other scholarship QB on the roster this season will be incoming freshman Chris Campbell out of the Memphis area. Barring any injuries to Davis or Young, look for Campbell to get a redshirt this season to develop physically and mentally on the college level. He fits Fedora’s style of offense, and looks to be the starter after Davis is gone.
The quarterback position will be one of the strengths of the offense, as well as the entire team. Austin Davis had a breakout season last year, and Fedora and USM fans are expecting more from him this season. Martavious Young is also a capable backup, if the need arises.
Most everyone that follows college football knows who Sr. Damion Fletcher is. Starting his freshman year he ran off the three RB’s in front of him on the depth chart to cement himself as the permanent starter, and also putting his name in the Southern Miss record books. Fletcher encountered an off season situation where he fired a gun off at the team apartments and was arrested and suspended for the spring. He has since been reinstated to the football team and has gained about 10 lbs. of muscle and reportedly has gotten even faster. If Damion can rush for 1000+ yards again this season he will go down in the NCAA record books as one of only 9 players to rush for over 1000 in four straight seasons. Fletcher might not get the yardage this season that he has gotten in the past few, but the reason will be because of the talent and depth with the rest of the running backs.
Sr. Tory Harrison came to Southern Miss in 2006 along with Damion Fletcher and has basically been under Fletcher’s shadow the whole time he’s been here. While he is the “number two” guy at USM, Harrison would be the starter for most of the other C-USA teams. He isn’t as shifty as Fletcher, but he’s bigger and faster and has the ability to run people over. He is a good compliment to Damion Fletcher’s running style, and I look for Harrison to be used a good amount more this season.
Jr. V.J. Floyd will add a power running aspect to the running game. A guy that runs between the tackles and gets the tough yardage, Floyd won’t get the stats and recognition that Fletcher and Harrison get, but he will be just as important to the Southern Miss offense this season.
In the spring, RS Fr. Desmond Johnson emerged and showed his talent. Coaches and players alike were saying Johnson had the most impressive spring of any player. A former Dandy Dozen selection out of Yazoo City High School, Desmond has the speed and quickness to be the starting RB for USM after Fletcher and Harrison’s time runs out. Expect to see him get plenty of playing time this season, as the Golden Eagles will look to give teams all kinds of looks on offense.
Incoming heralded Fr. Kendrick Hardy out of Lawrence Co. High School is the brother of former USM player Wayne Hardy. Kendrick was an Army All-American his senior year of high school, and was also a Dandy Dozen selection. With there being so much depth and talent at the running back position, Hardy could very likely be red shirted to give him a year to learn the system, as he comes from a school that ran the Wing-T. A talented guy, look for Hardy to not make much of an impact this year, but in the following years.
Tracey Lampley, a Fr. from Wayne County High school, will look to add even more depth to the position. Lampley is small and quick, and most Eagle fans think he will be used in a Percy Harvin manner. Tracey could line up at the slot position and at running back. While Lampley might see some touches this year, Eagle fans should expect big things from him in the next couple years.
This position has arguably the most depth of any position on the team. The talent isn’t lacking either. The possibilities are endless with this group. Fletcher, Harrison, and Johnson will add speed to the offense while Floyd and Hardy will add the power running style. This season could be a special one for USM, but the running game will have to be successful. The more USM is able to run the ball, the more the offense can keep the ball, and in C-USA, the best defense is to keep your offense on the field.
Wide Receivers/Tight Ends:
Rising sophomore DeAndre Brown is the most talked about USM football player in the last few years, and he’s only been on campus a little over a year. Everyone knows about his success last season and how it gruesomely ended. The big question with him this season is whether or not he will be able to come back 100%, not physically, but mentally. While he was in high school, Brown had the same kind of break in his leg while playing basketball. It didn’t affect him too much after that, but it’s going to be interesting to see how timid or conscious he is about it during games this year. If DeAndre comes back 100%, he will set more records for USM. A 6’6” 230 lb. freak of nature, he has the height and speed that nobody in C-USA can cover. In my opinion, I believe Brown will come back ready and chomping at the bit to show everyone that he is fine. I think he’ll have a huge season for the Golden Eagles and help propel them to some scary offensive numbers.
Sr. Gerald Baptiste has solidified himself as the number two guy, behind Brown. A WR that has been at USM since he graduated high school, Baptiste is the veteran of the group. Up until last season, Gerald hadn’t had too much production as he was mainly used in a backup role. Last year, however, he broke out and made a name for himself among the Eagle faithful. Baptiste had a great New Orleans Bowl, taking up for the gap left by DeAndre Brown breaking his leg. Gerald isn’t an overpowering WR, nor is he a blazer by any means, but he runs crisp routes and just knows how to get open. With teams putting their primary focus on containing Brown, look for Baptiste to have an even more productive senior season.
Another Sr., Freddie Parham, will look to take the third receiver slot this fall. Parham, a JUCO transfer last year, was used mostly in the return game. He has loads of speed and will be utilized more this year, possibly as a deep threat. He needs to improve on his hands to have a productive year.
RS Jr. Johdrick Morris really emerged late last season, primarily in the New Orleans Bowl where he led the Golden Eagles in catches and yards. Morris showed some good hands and was able to get tough yardage. USM fans should expect to see a much more significant role played by Morris this year, especially if he builds on his bowl game performance.
At the TE position, it will be a battle between rising junior Jonathon Massey and sophomore JUCO transfer David Rue.
Massey prepped at Gautier High School and went to Vanderbilt for a season before transferring to USM. Last season he played behind current Buffalo Bill TE Shawn Nelson, but still saw some playing time, including a big touchdown catch in the New Orleans Bowl to propel the Golden Eagle’s comeback against Troy. Standing 6’3” and weighing around 250 lbs. Massey is a pretty good run blocker as well.
Rue originally committed to Ole Miss out of Monroe, LA, but instead went to East Central CC where he caught 7 balls his freshman year as he was red shirted his sophomore year and will have three years to play for Southern Miss. Like Massey, Rue is also around 250 lbs and looks to take up space as a run blocker as well.
Sophomore Jordan McNair didn’t see any time last season, but is expected to be one of the top reserves, and maybe even jump his way into the starting lineup during the season. Probably the fastest WR on the squad, McNair can fly. The only question with him is his hands, which can be developed. There has been some excitement about Jordan, and Eagle fans want to see what the excitement is about.
Incoming JUCO transfer Justin Jordan out of Blinn CC is highly touted. He is another guy that could possibly see good time depending on how he grasps the playbook during practice. A guy that put up good numbers at Blinn (55 rec. 715 yards 7 TD), and earned JUCO All-American honors. If he can produced half of those numbers he will bring some added depth to the receiving group.
Freshman Mujahid Assad out of Mobile, AL is the only incoming freshman to the WR group. Assad has a great upside and will look to become the compliment to DeAndre Brown sooner rather than later. Look for him to have a decent freshman campaign this year.
Incoming freshman Ryan Hanks, from Pace High School in Pace, Florida has impressed thus far in fall practice. It would not be a surprise to see him leap frog David Rue for the backup position at tight end.
DeAndre Brown aside, there’s not another “standout” receiver in the group. Even with that being the case, the opposing defenses will be keying in on Brown first and foremost which should open up the opportunity for another guy to step up and make the defenses pay. With his experience and leadership, Gerald Baptiste could very well be the guy that compliments Brown and makes it doubly hard for teams to stop USM’s offense. The Golden Eagles aren’t going to be able to win if none of the other guys step up and play to their potential. Johdrick Morris should have around 20 grabs, and McNair will be used for sweeps and motion plays to utilize his speed. Remember the name Justin Jordan. When Baptiste leaves after this season, he could be not much of a downgrade from DeAndre.
Jonathon Massey, David Rue, and Ryan Hanks should provide some match up problems in the middle of the field between the linebackers and defensive backs. They could be vital in medium yardage plays.
When it’s all said and done, this group should put up some big numbers. The offense combined with Austin Davis’s ability to make smart throws will put the receivers in good position to make the most out of the plays. Look for some records to be re-written this year.
Plugging in the gap at the center position will be RS Junior Cameron Zipp. He will be one of the more sturdy and sure-handed linemen to suit up the black and gold. A pretty agile player, Zipp won’t be beat off the ball very often. He will help a great deal in the protection of Austin Davis.
Sr. Kyle Burkhart will lineup alongside Zipp. A JUCO transfer a year ago, Burkhart moved from defensive line to offensive line to shore up some depth issues for Larry Fedora. Ever since the move he has become a solid player for the Eagles.
RS Sr. Ryan Hebert is arguably one of the better linemen in all of C-USA. Weighing over 310 lbs, Ryan doesn’t get pushed around by opposing players. With the departure of Calvin Wilson to North Alabama, Hebert is going to have to step up and become the leader for the line, both vocally and physically. He has the tools and body to be a NFL draft pick next April, and hopefully that talent will shine through this season for USM.
Another starter on for the offensive hogs will be RS SR. Brennan Houston. A JUCO transfer from Cerritos College in California, Houston will look to step in and replace the big void left by Calvin Wilson. Standing 6”4’ and weighing in around 315 lbs, Brennan seems poised to take over without missing a step.
Rounding out the group of probable starters will be RS SR. Micah Brown. Not an imposing figure like Brennan Houston, Brown relies on experience and athleticism to get the upper-hand on opponents.
JUCO transfer Trevor Newsom looks to have the inside track on the spot behind Kyle Burkhart. Weighing around 300 lbs, Newsom has a mean streak in him, but needs to get quicker off the snap. He should get plenty of playing time this season to give Kyle a breather.
Another JUCO transfer, from Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College, Ben Schoenberger will be called upon to take up a big role as a reserve. A player that will become a starter next season after the departures of Hebert, Houston, and Brown, “Big” Ben will get much needed experience in his first season at USM that will benefit him greatly.
A transfer from the University of South Florida, Thomas Edinfield comes to Hattiesburg with three years of eligibility left. Currently competing with Houston and Schoenberger for the starting right tackle spot, Edinfield is the biggest of the trio, but the least known by the coaching staff. He just arrived on campus a few weeks ago, so the coaches aren’t sure as to how he plays. Depending on how he develops and how hard he practices throughout the season, he could unseat Houston as the starter.
Upcoming sophomore Austin Quattrochi, from Marietta, GA, will step in behind Cameron Zipp at the center position. A player who didn’t see any time last season, Austin needs another season in the system before he will become a legitimate starter.
With the graduation of senior leader Ryan McKee and the surprising departure of veteran Calvin Wilson, the offensive line will undoubtedly be the biggest question and concern for USM fans and coaches coming into this season. The line does return 4 guys who saw significant playing time last season, but after that there are many question marks about what the coaching staff has to work with. Hopefully the newcomers will develop quickly and step into their roles without hindering the offense. The offensive line will be the key that starts the ignition of the Southern Miss offense. Without a consistent and sturdy offensive line, the entire offense will not click on all cylinders. Whether or not the Golden Eagles have a breakout season could very well be on the shoulders of the guys up front.
Final Offensive Analysis:
Speed. Speed. Speed. There will not be a lack of speed for Southern Miss this season. For the first time in a while, the Eagles have the potential to score from any position on the field. With burners like DeAndre Brown, Freddie Parham, Jordan McNair, and Tracey Lampley, there are plenty of targets for the coaching staff to utilize this year and make for an exciting atmosphere at “THE ROCK”.
DeAndre Brown, Damion Fletcher, Austin Davis. This trio will possibly be the most dangerous and athletic of any combination of WR/RB/QB in C-USA, and one of the best in the country. Combine Brown’s freakish speed and height with Fletcher’s ability to find the hole and always get positive yardage, along with Davis’s ability to make smart decisions when throwing and his exceptional wheels, it is going to be a nightmare for opposing defensive coaches to game plan against this offense.
Offensive line. This group is just too much of a question mark at the beginning of the season to feel good about. Aside from Cameron Zipp and Ryan Hebert, this unit isn’t very experienced. With that said, the offensive line does have the potential to become a strength of the team, but until they prove it on the field, they will be the biggest concern.
Quarterback depth. While Austin Davis is one of the more all-around athletic QB’s USM has had in many years that could also be a bad thing. With Davis always taking chances with his legs, the potential for injury is there. If that should arise Martavious Young has the arm strength and legs to be a decent replacement, but he just doesn’t have the game experience at this point to be confident in him. Hopefully against Alcorn St. he can get some much needed time behind center.
With a year under the new system, look for even more production to come from the offense. Coach Fedora and staff have had another off-season to install the rest of the playbook and Austin Davis will have another year under his belt in Fedora’s system. The talent at the skill positions does not get much better than the combination of Davis, Fletcher, and Brown. Add to that a deep stable of good and versatile group of running backs and a deep corps of wide receivers, along with an experienced offensive line, it is almost a foregone conclusion that this offense will break even more records and be one of the more exciting offenses to watch on Saturdays.