2013 Southern Miss Preview – Defense

Posted Jul 4, 2013

CollegeFootballNews.com 2013 Preview - Southern Miss Golden Eagle Defense

Southern Miss Golden Eagles

Preview 2013 - Defense

- 2013 Southern Miss Preview | 2013 Southern Miss Offense
- 2013 Southern Miss Defense | 2013 Southern Miss Depth Chart

What you need to know: Southern Miss was bad everywhere a year ago, but it was the defense that really left the locals shaking their heads. The Golden Eagles, tabbed the Nasty Bunch during good times, were a different kind of nasty last fall. The upcoming season marks the return of coordinator David Duggan, who coached in Hattiesburg from 2008-2011, and recruited some of the personnel still on the roster. As the co-defensive coordinator two years ago, his attacking unit set an NCAA record for most pick-sixes in a season. Duggan will have to break some bad habits the players picked up from the last staff, but the talent is not as shabby as the prior year's numbers indicate. There will be veterans at each level of the D to help usher in a new attitude and a return to the standards to which this program is accustomed. While true star power comes at a premium now that Bandit Jamie Collins is a New England Patriot, USM houses a stable foundation of defenders.

Returning Leaders
Tackles: Alan Howze, 66
Sacks: Alan Howze, 2.5
Interceptions: Multiple, 1

Star of the defense: Senior CB Deron Wilson
Player who has to step up and become a star: Senior BAN Octavius Thomas
Unsung star on the rise: Sophomore CB Kalan Reed
Best pro prospect: Wilson
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Wilson, 2) Senior DT Khyri Thornton, 3) Senior LB Alan Howze
Strength of the defense: Interior of the D-line, linebacker
Weakness of the defense: Pass defense, takeaways, run defense, pressure, third-down D, red-zone D

Defensive Line

Everyone will need to pick up the slack in the pass rush now that former Bandit Jamie Collins is headed to the NFL. Everyone, including the tackles, such as junior Rakeem Nunez-Roches. The 6-2, 290-pound nose tackle was one of the few overachievers in Hattiesburg in 2012, his first as a starter. The honorable mention All-Conference USA pick started all but one game in the middle of the Golden Eagles line, making 37 stops, six tackles for loss and a sack. Nunez-Roches gets off the snap quickly, and should be in the best shape of his life after going through the new staff's exhausting offseason conditioning program.

Next to Nunez-Roches on the inside will be senior tackle Khyri Thornton, a former commit to South Florida. The 6-3, 308-pouder has become a fixture up front for Southern Miss, starting 17 games over the past two seasons. Quick off the snap and nimble for a big man, he knifed through the line for 36 tackles, 9.5 stops for loss, a sack and a pick in 2012. Thornton is tenacious to the whistle, a trait that could earn him some attention from NFL teams.

Newcomers Roderick Henderson, a squat 6-0, 362-pound redshirt freshman, and 6-2, 282-pound JUCO transfer Adam Williams will back up Nunez-Roches and Thornton, respectively.

The staff is getting excited by the play of sophomore DE Michael Smith, who is coming off a breakout spring. The 6-4, 262-pounder was tough to block, routinely collapsing the pocket. He started 11 games a year ago, yet only made 27 tackles, 6.5 stops for loss and a lone sack. Smith, though, looked like a different player in the spring, one who's big and strong enough to contribute on every down.

What will new Bandit Octavius Thomas be looking to replace this year? Collins led the Eagles with 92 tackles, 20 stops for loss, 10 sacks and four forced fumbles. The 6-3, 230-pound senior won't be nearly that disruptive, though there's hope that his explosive athleticism will lead to defensive dividends. Thomas missed all of 2012 because of academic reasons.

Watch Out For .... the return from injury of DE Dasman McCullum. The speedy 6-4, 237-pound junior has missed time, including during the spring, but is expected back to provide depth, leadership and competition to the unit.
Strength: The interior. In Nunez-Roches and Thornton, Southern Miss boasts a couple of returning starters looking for strong 2013 campaigns. Both anchor well, lending hope that the program can make modest strides against the run.
Weakness: Holding the line. The fact that the Golden Eagles yielded five yards a carry and registered just nine sacks from guys not named Collins was a scathing indictment of the D-line. The defense needs someone, like Smith and Thomas, to generate the consistent upfield push that blows up running plays and gets after the opposing quarterback.
Outlook: From the excitement of last year's D-line to the reality of this season's unit. If the USM defense is going to earn the Nasty Bunch moniker, it'll have to play substantially better up front. The return of Thomas, emergence of Smith and presence of the veteran tackles lend hope. Still, Southern Miss has got to deliver in the fall, or else the results will be eerily similar to the ones that haunted the program in 2012.
Rating: 5


After showing flashes in his first year as a starter, senior Alan Howze is determined to raise the bar a little higher in his amateur finale. The one-time running back at Southern Miss has fully digested his assignments on the defensive side of the ball, starting all 12 games of 2012. He finished second on the team with 66 tackles, including five stops for loss, 2.5 sacks and a pair of fumble recoveries. Howze has bulked up to 6-3 and 227 pounds, yet remains an agile athlete who can make plays from sideline-to-sideline at middle linebacker.

The Golden Eagles will employ two traditional linebackers, with 6-1, 230-pound senior Dylan Reda locked in at weakside. In his debut out of Santa Ana (Calif.) Community College, he started all but one game to finish fourth on the team with 55 tackles, 2.5 stops for loss and two forced fumbles. Reda is a quality all-around athlete who'll be better prepared to make plays in his second year at this level.

Keeping Reda from becoming content will be sophomore Terrick Wright, the likely successor at weakside in 2014. The 6-2, 211-pounder got his feet wet last year by starting a game and coming off the bench to provide breathers. He chipped in 29 tackles, three stops for loss and two sacks, playing the game very fast.

Watch Out For .... Reda to build on his debut as a Golden Eagle. He moves well in all directions, and was improving as his debut season in Hattiesburg was winding down. Reda will be more effective against the run in his second year, occasionally mixing in well-timed blitzes from weakside.
Strength: Range. The starters and primary backup remain the same, as does the central strength of this group. The Golden Eagles linebackers sniff out plays and will cover plenty of ground in a short period of time. These Southern Miss defenders are really good athletes, from Howze and Reda in the starting lineup to Wright coming off the bench.
Weakness: Stuffing the run. The linebackers are small and agile, but they'll occasionally pay the price against downhill running opponents that travel north and south. The Eagles aren't very physical at the second level, one of a handful of reasons why the team ranked 108th nationally against the run in 2012.
Outlook: Faced with rebuilding at the position in 2012, Southern Miss will be somewhat stronger at linebacker than it was at this time last year. Howze, Reda and Wright will fly all over the field in order to make things happen. The fact that each member of the trio was green and a little wide-eyed a season ago means that the only way is up in 2013. It'll be a sign of progress, for the entire D, if Howze or Reda winds up leading the team in tackles.
Rating: 5


Southern Miss CB Deron Wilson feels as if he has an NFL future. This season, he's out to prove it. The senior got a little lost in the winless 2012 campaign, but is a three-year starter and still one of Conference USA's top cover corners. His numbers dipped to 61 tackles, one pick and nine passes defended, but whose production didn't decline in Hattiesburg last fall? Wilson is much feistier than his 5-10, 181-pound frame might indicate, and his ability to break on throws will be a problem for opposing quarterbacks.

While Wilson handles boundary corner, 5-11, 198-pound sophomore Kalan Reed is set to lock down field corner. The talented former three-star recruit put down a foundation by starting three games and making 21 tackles in his debut out of high school. Bigger, stronger and wiser than this time last year, Reed is poised to turn a few heads in his second season on campus.

The veteran among the reserve corners is 5-10, 166-pound Ed Wilkins. He may only be a sophomore, but he lettered last season, started a game and flattened the learning curve by making 16 tackles.

The Golden Eagles will use three safeties, including a hybrid. The best of the trio will be 5-11, 195-pound senior Jacorius Cotton, who's searching for a rebound season. After tying for the team lead with 98 tackles in 2011, he missed time in 2012, and only had 41 stops. Still, he's the kind of safety who plays much bigger than his size, roaming the field with an attitude and a fearless demeanor.

Emmanuel Johnson is on his way to locking down the other traditional safety spot. The 5-11, 181-pound junior enjoyed a solid season in the secondary for the Golden Eagles in 2012. Despite starting just four games, he ended up fifth on the team with 48 tackles, adding a couple of breakups and stops for loss. Behind Johnson is 5-10, 183-pound sophomore DeBarriaus Miller, an up-and-comer who started four games and made 22 tackles in his first year.

Southern Miss employs a Spur, a hybrid between a safety and a linebacker. The Eagles have ideal depth at the position, with 6-0, 205-pound senior Jerrion Johnson remaining ahead of 5-10, 194-pound senior Alex Smith. Johnson has played a ton of football in Hattiesburg and knows his role, but needs to get more involved after making just 43 tackles, 3.5 stops for loss and five pass breakups. Smith is a luxury off the bench, starting three games in 2012 and pitching in with 26 tackles.

Watch Out For .... the return to form of Cotton, the fabric of this secondary. The senior was such an integral part of the defensive backfield in 2011, but was never quite right a year ago. Now, the Golden Eagles are hopeful that No. 28 can play up to his full potential, acting like a warden on the final line of the D.
Strength: Depth. The Golden Eagles welcome back an uncommon number of familiar faces, eight in fact who started at least one game in 2012. Experience will not be a problem for this unit, which harbors a blend of seasoned veterans and rising underclassmen.
Weakness: Stepping up in coverage. The Golden Eagles were abysmal against the pass last year, ranking 108th nationally in pass efficiency D. They picked off only five balls all season, and routinely allowed too many yards after the catch. This unit, more than any other on defense, needs to play a whole lot better than it did in 2012.
Outlook: Southern Miss is a year older in the secondary, but will it be a year stingier? The Eagles need to make more stops when the ball is in the air, creating takeaways and forcing punts on third-and-long. Wilson and Cotton are nice places to start, and Reed is on the rise. But the results cannot be as feeble as they were a year ago.
Rating: 5

Special Teams

Junior Corey Acosta is back as the team's placekicker, looking to improve his consistency. The former highly-touted recruit hit just 11-of-17 field goals, though was good on both of his 50-yard attempts. He has the skill set to perform at a higher level this season.

The program is being forced to develop a replacement for its punter, Peter Boehme, who started the last two seasons. Redshirt freshman Cliff Hurst and sophomore Tennessee State transfer Matthew Moseley were the only punters on the roster competing for the job in the spring.

The graduation of Tracey Lampley means that Southern Miss will be looking for a new return man this fall. Senior Justin Sims and sophomore Jalen Richard have special teams experience, and will surely be in the mix for touches.

Watch Out For .... rookie Tyler Sarrazin to arrive in the summer with the mindset that he can play right away. The newcomer from Louisiana signed to become the Danny Hrapmann, and sooner rather than later. If the door is left open, Sarrazin is liable to kick it open with his strong right foot.
Strength: Acosta. Yeah, the guy who missed more than a third of last year's field goal tries is likely the safest bet on an otherwise shaky group. He was erratic, but did show good drive through the ball, and will benefit from having his first full season now in the rear view mirror.
Weakness: Uncertainty at punter. Boehme wasn't an all-star performer, but he did provide steady support for the defense. Since there's no slam-dunk replacement at the position, Southern Miss' struggles in the punting game could have a far-reaching impact in 2013.
Outlook: The special teams unit has turned south since the graduation of Hrapmann, a Groza Award candidate, and losing Lampley will be felt as well. Acosta will be improved from his debut, but the problems at punter and with the coverage teams won't be easily solved by new coach John Wozniak.
Rating: 5
- 2013 Southern Miss Preview | 2013 Southern Miss Offense
- 2013 Southern Miss Defense | 2013 Southern Miss Depth Chart