Traditionally, the Golden Eagles defense has been a strength of the program. Before the season, the prediction was that the defense would carry the team, as the offense was just too green. While it is early, and Week 1 opponent Nebraska could find itself among the top 10 by the end of the season, Southern Miss fans might have to adapt their expectation.
Maybe this year's defense isn't up to Southern Miss' standard.
"I think we were playing so bad on defense, until somewhere late in the second quarter, I don't think they cared what they called," Southern Miss coach Ellis Johnson told local media. "I think they were just working on plays. We stopped them a few plays here or there. But, frankly, they might have missed a block or something. I don't know how else we stopped them. It's just something that's got to get better."
After staying out of Nebraska's way, and allowing 632 yards in the opener, the Golden Eagles rank 10th in total defense in Conference USA. The only reason it looks that good is that three other teams in the offense-first league surrendered more than 600 yards in their openers too. Nebraska quarterback Taylor Martinez was named Big Ten player of the week after his performance.
Despite the problems, Johnson founds some bright spots on defense.
Said Johnson: "Jamie Collins had good production. I didn't think it was one of his best games, but he had good production with 13 tackles, three of them for a loss. Even with a tough day for us defensively, he showed up and got some work done. Deron Wilson had 13 tackles and he competed hard."
- Southern Miss coach Ellis Johnson admitted that his program is about four weeks behind where he wants it to be in terms of determining quarterback ranking. He was hoping to have only two by now.
As expected, the Golden Eagles played three quarterbacks against Nebraska, most of that going to junior Chris Campbell and freshman Anthony Alford.
The good news is that each exhibited what expected of them. Campbell was the better passer, and Alford was the better runner, a trait that translated into cleaner passing windows because of how Nebraska played them. Johnson said all three will get work in practice again.
- Likely the best unit for Southern Miss is its offensive line. Johnson attributed that to the group's experience.
Said Johnson: "The age factor, when you go into a tough environment like that, sometimes age and experience can be the biggest friends you have. It was sort of obvious that those four old guys up in there that have been around and been in a lot of games before seemed to play more steady and confident than some of the younger players."
- Such a lopsided loss stings, especially a proud program such as Southern Miss coming off arguably its best season. Johnson said that dealing with the attitude of his team is important.
"I told them one game cannot beat you twice," Johnson said. "Number 1, you fix things that were wrong and build on what was good, and No. 2, you move on. We cleaned up the film yesterday and we had a good workout."
Bye Week Mission: Considering Southern Miss' defensive struggles and uncertainty at quarterback, the Golden Eagles have plenty to work on during their early bye week. There are no major injury concerns, so perhaps most important this week will be the team's ability to gather itself for the start of Conference USA play, which starts after the bye week against East Carolina. Last year, the Golden Eagles dropped their conference opener after a disappointing Week 1 performance.
Looking Ahead: Southern Miss has an opportunity to gain some early positive momentum in Conference USA play by playing its first league game, at home, so early in the year. After the East Carolina game Sept. 15, the Golden Eagles won't have another league game for nearly a month. The Pirates will be coming off a game at South Carolina.
Quote To Note: "The open date is a good time for us, although I am sure that we will want it back six or seven weeks down the road and wish we had an open date, but that is just where it falls. It could be a big advantage for us having it right now." - Southern Miss head coach Ellis Johnson.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
Scouting The Offense: Southern Miss' offense yielded respectable yardage in the running game in the Golden Eagles season opening loss. With the defensive struggles and inexperienced passing game, Southern Miss might try to lean more on the running game. The leading rusher was freshman quarterback Anthony Alford with 84 yards on 15 carries, which is probably not a good sign for Southern Miss if that happens again.
Scouting The Defense: Last year's defense set a record with eight touchdown returns from turnovers. Southern Miss actually committed more turnovers than it forced, but it made the most of its takeaways. Last week against Nebraska, the Golden Eagles didn't generate any turnovers.
Said linebacker Alan Howze: "We're definitely disappointed. We kind of pride ourselves on turnovers. Not to have any in this game is definitely disappointing."
- RB Kendrick Hardy, who missed the season opener with a nagging hamstring injury, should be available after the bye week for the game against East Carolina. He led the Golden Eagles in rushing as a freshman.