2011 Southern Miss Preview – Offense

Posted May 13, 2011

CollegeFootballNews.com 2011 Preview - Southern Miss Golden Eagle Offense

Southern Miss Golden Eagles

Preview 2011 - Offense

- 2011 Southern Miss Preview | 2011 Southern Miss Offense
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What you need to know: Larry Fedora is getting awfully close to having the kind of balanced, explosive offense he was hired to develop in Hattiesburg. The Golden Eagles ranked no lower than 35th nationally in rushing or passing, averaging 453 yards and almost 37 points a game. They became more potent as the season progressed, ringing up at least 40 points in seven of the final nine games. The spread has officially sunk in. Fedora will once again have the services of multi-faceted QB Austin Davis, a microcosm of the diverse attack. He thinks pass first, but won't hesitate to burn defenses with his legs. He'll have to fight for carries this fall in a backfield loaded with upside in the form of Kendrick Hardy and Desmond Johnson. Southern Miss will have few problems running the ball, but the passing game needs help from a receiving corps and offensive line that was bitten by the graduation bug. While WR Kelvin Bolden is a potential game-changer, he's more of the exception than the rule on the outside.

Returning Leaders
Passing: Austin Davis
278-442, 3,103 yds, 20 TDs, 6 INTs
Rushing: Kendrick Hardy
139 carries, 903 yds, 7 TDs
Receiving: Kelvin Bolden
46 catches, 722 yds, 6 TDs

Star of the offense: Senior QB Austin Davis
Player who has to step up and become a star: Senior LT Lamar Holmes
Unsung star on the rise: Sophomore RB Kendrick Hardy
Best pro prospect: Davis
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Davis, 2) Senior WR Kelvin Bolden, 3) Hardy
Strength of the offense: Quarterback, running backs, ground game, converting on third downs, protecting the ball
Weakness of the offense: Receivers, offensive line, finishing drives


State of the Unit: Unlike a year ago, when an injury clouded the situation, Southern Miss will begin 2011 with absolute confidence and certainty behind center. While depth might be a little more of a concern now that underrated veteran Martevious Young has graduated, the objectives at quarterback are simple—keep the franchise healthy and develop his successor as best as possible along the way.

Senior Austin Davis made a triumphant return from a foot injury that shelved him for most of 2009, earning an all-star spot in quarterback-rich Conference USA. Now a fourth-year starter, he picked up where he left off before getting hurt, going 278-of-442 for 3,103 yards, 20 touchdowns, and only six picks. As an athletic dual-threat, he also scampered for 452 yards and added 10 more scores on the ground. While not imposing at 6-2 and 200 pounds, he's a terrific leader and a great fit for Larry Fedora's spread, dishing with accuracy and always in control of his surroundings.

In the race to be the backup—and get a leg up on the 2012 job—6-4, 197-pound sophomore Chris Campbell has moved ahead of 6-3, 226-pound redshirt freshman Arsenio Favor . Campbell has added much-needed muscle during the offseason and is the better pocket passer of the pair. Favor is more athletic, and possibly the best long-term fit, but has been raw and needs more work with his reads.

Watch Out For .... Davis to put it all together. Physical ability? Check. Years in the system? Check. With all of the stars aligned, the senior is capable of delivering a finale that's every bit as productive and exciting as Houston's Case Keenum, Tulsa's G.J. Kinne, or SMU's Kyle Padron.
Strength: A dual-threat quarterback. There's only one thing better than a fourth-year starting quarterback—a fourth-year starter who can beat defenses with his arm or his legs. Davis is a pass-first hurler, but he can be used on designed runs and has the quick feet to escape pressure and make something out of nothing.
Weakness: Proven backups. Young is going to be missed, especially since Davis has had injury problems in the past and will absorb about a dozen hits a game. In place of the veteran are a couple of untested underclassmen, with not a single college snap between them.
Outlook: Unproven depth aside, Southern Miss has an ideal situation behind center. Davis is a senior, a respected leader who can make plays and deliver in the clutch. After approaching his potential in 2010, he's capable of soaring past it this fall and vying for Conference USA Offensive Player of the year.
Rating: 7.5

Running Backs

State of the Unit: Even after losing all-time leading rusher Damion Fletcher to graduation, Southern Miss continued to have success running the ball. Using more of a committee approach, the Eagles delivered similar results, ranking 20th nationally at 200 yards a game. With last year's top four rushers back, the program is banking on no less than a repeat performance this fall.

The offense is still deciding between two terrific options to be the feature back, 5-11, 195-pound junior Desmond Johnson or 6-0, 217-pound sophomore Kendrick Hardy . Despite starting just three games, Hardy was outstanding in his debut, running for a team-high 903 yards and seven touchdowns on only 139 carries. As good as advertised when he was a top recruit coming out of high school, he has the balance and size-speed combo to blossom into one of the young stars of the conference. Johnson is more of a slasher, an exciting runner who can snap off a big play at a moment's notice. As a backup in 10 games, he was still able to run for 611 yards and eight scores on 115 carries, while adding 23 receptions for 172 yards and a touchdown.

The primary backup in the running game will be 5-8, 200-pound redshirt freshman Jamal Woodyard . A powerful runner, with the leverage to bounce off tacklers, his best chance for carries will come during blowouts.

When the Eagles employs a fullback and shifts into short-yardage formation, 5-9, 227-pound sophomore Bruce Johnson will enter the huddle. A stocky back and powerful blocker, he has the leg drive to create space for his teammates.

Watch Out For … both Hardy and Johnson to get a fair amount of touches no matter who eventually starts. The coaching staff prefers a deep rotation at the skill positions and won't hesitate to simply go with the hot hand. Figure both to get at least 125 carries this fall.
Strength: Depth. Not only were Hardy and Johnson last season's top two ground-gainers, but Lampley started six games and the coaches were impressed by Woodyard during the offseason. The Golden Eagles have talent, depth, and now experience, a dynamite blend of characteristics for a backfield ensemble.
Weakness: Blocking. It's the one area that typically haunts young backs, picking up blitzes and doing the little things to support an offense. Southern Miss is going to throw the ball 35 or 40 times a game, and if a particular back can't protect QB Austin Davis, it'll cut into his playing time.
Outlook: The staff's stellar recruiting of running backs is really going to pay dividends this fall. Both Hardy and Johnson would start for a bunch of larger programs, displaying the skill set and big-play ability of feature runners. They'll push each other throughout the year, providing a level of competition that benefits everyone associated with the offense.
Unit Rating: 7


State of the Unit: The Golden Eagles will need to build up their depth at wide receiver, a position that often uses four players on the field at the same time. Leading pass-catcher Johdrick Morris exhausted his eligibility and oft-injured star DeAndre Brown decided to throw his hat into the NFL ring. While the first unit will be a seasoned group, the backups are likely to be raw and unpredictable throughout the year.

With Brown hobbled for much of the year, 6-0, 191-pound senior Kelvin Bolden took advantage in his first year out of Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College. Using tremendous speed to offset a wispy frame, he caught 46 passes for a team-high 722 yards and six touchdowns. With just one year in the system and playing with QB Austin Davis, he'll be even more lethal in 2011.

Besides Bolden at "Z", 6-1, 176-pound senior Ryan Balentine is the other fixture at "Y" receiver. Two years removed from transferring from Trinity Valley (Tex.) Community College, the staff is hoping he can have a breakout year. A crisp route-runner, with good wheels, he needs to do better than last season's 11 catches for 82 yards. The other two spots are up for grabs. At "X", shifty 5-11, 176-pound junior Quentin Pierce is working to hold off 6-4, 190-pound sophomore Dominique Sullivan , a former quarterback.

While Pierce has the clear edge in experience, making 38 grabs for 454 yards and four touchdowns, the staff has become intrigued by his length and potential. In the slot, "A" receiver has come down to 5-10, 169-pound senior William Spight and 5-9, 169-pound junior Tracy Lampley . Spight started eight games in 2010, yet only caught 25 balls for 219 yards. Lampley is one of the program's most versatile and dangerous players, running for 384 yards, catching 23 balls for 172 yards, and making things happen on special teams. A converted running back, he encourages the staff to invent new ways to get the ball in his hands.

The tight end position isn't used very often in this attack, but when one is needed, 6-5, 231-pound Ryan Hanks will need to find his helmet. A potential seam-buster, he played in 11 games and earned a letter.

Watch Out For … Lampley to make a seamless transition to receiver. Yeah, he was technically a running back the last two years, but he was more of a third-down specialist, using his hands as much as his feet. The junior is going to make plays regardless of where he's lining up.
Strength: Playmakers. As a rule this season, the Eagle wide receivers will be a fleet-footed, undersized collection of playmakers who can get behind a secondary and pick up yards after the catch. They're exciting and versatile, even showing potential for big plays on inside handoffs and end-arounds.
Weakness: Size. This could be the smallest college receiving corps on the planet. The two-deep averages only about 175 pounds, which means the wideouts are going to struggle to beat the jam, block downfield, and win the battles for balls in the air.
Outlook: If the Southern Miss receivers are going to exceed expectations, Davis might need to carry them to that point. It's a marginal collection of pass-catchers that'll produce the occasional big play from Bolden or Pierce, but won't force opposing coordinators to design specific schemes just to slow them down.
Unit Rating: 5.5

Offensive Line

State of the Unit: Hattiesburg was home to one of Conference USA's best offensive lines in 2010, ranking 24th nationally in sacks allowed and blocking for the league's second best ground game. Maintaining that level of play, however, will be the responsibility of a retooled unit that could have as many as four new starters in the opening day lineup.

Bidding to become the Eagles' most reliable blocker is 6-2, 295-pound LG Joe Duhon , who was named honorable mention All-Conference USA last season. He started nine games, displaying good feet and more muscle from a player his size. His backup, 6-4, 315-pound junior Darius Barnes, is a former defensive lineman who actually started 11 games at left tackle in 2010. At least for now, the staff believes he's a better fit at guard. Coming out of spring, the starting right guard was 6-4, 302-pound sophomore Ed Preston . A heady, try-hard blocker, he's making quite a leap after appearing in just two games last fall. The graduation of all-star Cameron Zipp has created an opening at center for 6-3, 289-pound junior Austin Quattrochi, a two-time letterwinner. One of the versatile Southern Miss linemen, he started three games when injuries struck last season and can play multiple positions.

Barnes' move inside means 6-6, 336-pound senior Lamar Holmes has a clear path to the starting nod at left tackle. He started five games in his first year out of Itawamba (Miss.) Community College, needing to prove that he's more than just a mauler who can dominate at the point of attack. Right tackle is a dead heat between a pair of seniors, 6-5, 316-pound Jason Weaver and 6-5, 293-pound Thomas Edenfield . Weaver hit the ground running in his debut out of Arizona Western Community College, starting the first three games, but was lost for the year to a knee injury. Edenfield, another JUCO transfer, moved into the lineup and played well, starting six times and improving as the season unfolded.

Watch Out For .... outcome at right tackle. It's an interesting competition pitting a pair of junior college transfers who started games in 2010. Weaver impressed from the moment he stepped foot on campus, grading higher than any other Eagle in his first game … versus South Carolina. However, Edenfield didn't cower at his promotion, leaving the staff with a tough decision this summer.
Strength: Run blocking. Southern Miss has excellent size up front, sporting a line that could average well above 300 pounds. The Eagles do a nice job of getting off the snap, locking on to a man, and driving him off the ball. Last year's 200 yards a game and 4.7 yards weren't only a product of the program's running backs.
Weakness: Uncertainty on the right side. At guard, Preston is a complete unknown, the most untested favorite to win a job. At tackle, the staff won't anoint a starter until August. The Eagles need to get these issues resolved in the summer so that they cause issues in September.
Outlook: The Southern Miss offensive line far exceeded expectations in 2010. It'll be asked to repeat that performance again this season. It's a hodge-podge of blockers, including home-grown talent and junior college imports. If they can mesh before the opener, the Eagles will knock down one of their biggest hurdles to success for the upcoming year.
Rating: 5

- 2011 Southern Miss Preview | 2011 Southern Miss Offense
- 2011 Southern Miss Defense | 2011 Southern Miss Depth Chart
- Southern Miss Previews  2010 | 2009 | 2008 | 2007 | 2006