Arkansas Opponent Preview Week 3: Southern Mississippi

Eric Francis

It doesn't matter which team had a worse 2012. All that matters is who is going to be the better team on Saturday.

2012 Football Season 0 - 12 (0 - 8)

It kinda puts things in perspective when you talk to a Southern Mississippi fan.  Honestly, Arkansas fans can't even begin to identify with the 2012 Southern Mississippi Golden Eagles and the misfortune for their players and fans that was the 2012 football season.

While the collapse from preseason top 10 and Cotton Bowl winners to 4 - 8 was calamitous, it was an even bigger plummet for Southern Mississippi.  Southern Miss had just completed their 18th straight winning season and had gone to ten consecutive bowl games.  While their talent level wasn't as high as Mississippi State or Ole Miss, they were the model of consistency and many seasons, including 2012, were better than the SEC schools in state.

Ellis Johnson, former defensive coordinator at South Carolina, was fired at the end of the season.  He took a team that returned 13 starters and had won 12 games the season before, and drove them into the ground.

Notable 2012 losses: UTEP 3-9, Memphis 4-8, UAB 3-9

2013 Football Season 0 - 2 (0 - 0)

After the 2012 disaster, Southern Miss fans were hoping that first year head coach Todd Monken would be able to steer them back into another streak of 18 consecutive winning seasons.  So far, the wins haven't come.  The first game against Texas State featured plenty of miscues on offense including 6 turnovers.

As a result, while the defense was stingy (81 rushing yards allowed and forced a safety) and the offense put up over 400 yards of offense, Southern Mississippi still came out with a loss because they couldn't keep the ball out of the hands of the Texas State defense who scored on a fumble return in the 1st quarter.

In the 2nd week of the 2013 season, Southern Miss went on the road to face Nebraska and were demolished. USM quarterback Allan Bridgford is in the top 20 in the country in total passing yards, but he has displayed some questionable decision making as he threw not one, but two pick 6's in the 1st quarter in Lincoln.

The Eagles are currently on a 14 game losing streak,that will most likely stretch to at least 16. Things look up for Southern Miss in a very favorable Conference USA schedule.  It wouldn't shock me to see this team win more than a few games, but they will have to avoid turnovers and bounce back from their non-conference schedule.

Offense

Todd Monken was the offensive coordinator at Oklahoma State in 2011 and 2012 when they finished 3rd and 4th in total offense and tallied over 14,000 yards in those two seasons.  Nearly 10,000 of those yards were through the air, so it's no surprise to see Southern Miss averaging nearly 300 passing yards per game.

Bridgford transferred from Cal and has been able to run the offense reasonably well despite his 5 interceptions.  Monken has called Bridgford their best offensive player, and even though freshman Nick Mullins did get a few snaps in the loss to Nebraska, you can expect that Bridgford will be on the field the majority of the snaps against Arkansas.  Bridgford only arrived on campus a week before fall camp, so he's still learning a new system.  That being said, if someone who has only been with the team for 5 or 6 weeks is running the offense, there must be a steep drop off after that.

The running game has been abysmal for USM.  The Eagles rank 123rd in the nation. Senior Kendrick Hardy and Sophomore Tyre Bracken have been getting the majority of carries, and the running game actually more than doubled its output from the Texas State game when they were playing against the vaunted Blackshirt defense at Nebraska, but still, 123rd.

It's assumed the Arkansas front 4 will be able to contain the rushing attack, but the Hogs will certainly get tested through the air.  It's been pretty apparent the Arkansas defense is trying to stop the big play as they have only given up 3 plays that have gone for more than 20 yards.  In this football game, you can expect the Arkansas front 4 to dominate and get in the Southern Miss backfield enough that the soft secondary coverage won't matter.

Defense

Southern Miss has a lot of questions to answer of defense.  Yes they gave up nearly 300 rushing yards to Nebraska, but Nebraska put up almost 400 the week before on Wyoming.  If I were on the Southern Miss defense, it would be hard to get excited about a great stop, because the Eagles offense keeps coughing the ball up and right back into the hands of opposing players.

The biggest knock on the Southern Miss defense isn't all the yards and points that Nebraska got, but the 75 yard touchdown drive at the end of the game against Texas State.  They allowed Texas State to convert a 4th and 19 from their own 16 and then 4 plays later gave up a 17 yard touchdown run by the quarterback.

The Southern Miss defensive strength lies on the interior of  the defensive line.  Rakeem Nunez-Roches is 6' 2" and 290 lbs and was one of the few guys that was a bright spot for Southern Miss at defensive tackle last season, but will probably have some issues with the new look Arkansas offensive line.

Alan Howze is the best Eagle linebacker and has already posted 18 tackles this season.  Dylan Reda has also been big and added 11 tackles.  These guys are fast and know where to be, but they may have some issues against the run due to their size and lack of physicality.  If the Arkansas running backs get to the 2nd level, they will probably gain a lot of yards after the catch with these linebackers.

The secondary has performed well despite an injury to top defensive back Deron Wilson and inelegibility of Jacorius Cotton.  The team started with some depth, and has been able to keep players on the field.  DeBarrius Miller had 22 tackles last season and already has 19 to lead all USM tacklers.  The Eagles have yet to give up more than 200 yards in a game through the air, but have yet to pick off any passes.

Special Teams

Corey Acosta handles place kicking and kickoffs.  Of his 8 kickoffs, 4 have been touchbacks.  He has made both attempts at extra points, and is 4 of 5 on field goals this season.  He has two from the 2012 season from greater than 50 yards.

Matt Moseley handles punts. He averages just over 40 yards per punt.

Neither kicker has had one returned for a touchdown, and Southern Miss has yet to pop a big return for a touchdown.

Traditions and Fans

The Southern Miss fans are good and will travel well.  18 winning seasons in a row is likely to build a following.

The call and response cheer for Southern Miss fans is "Southern Miss!" and "To the Top!" and the two combined is actually the name of the Southern Miss Fight song.  Speaking of the fight song, The Pride of Mississippi Marching Band plays that fight song and can be found marching into M. M. Roberts Stadium every home game.  A cannon is fired, and the Golden Eagles march into the stadium via Eagle Walk which is painted fresh each year by the new freshman.

Southern Miss has a "Little Rock" too.  Though they don't play football in it.  Instead, they paint it with a message directed at their next opponent.

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