2009 CFN Southern Miss Preview
Southern Miss DT Anthony Gray
Southern Miss DT Anthony Gray
Posted May 22, 2009

The team kicked it in over the second half of last season, and now it'll be one of the favorites to with the Conference USA title. Can Anthony Gray and the defensive front get back to being nasty? Check out the 2009 CFN Southern Miss preview.

Southern Miss Golden Eagles

Preview 2009

By Richard Cirminiello

Interested in blogging about Southern Miss football?  Let us know

- 2009 CFN Southern Miss Preview
| 2009 USM Offense
- 2009 USM Defense
| 2009 USM Depth Chart
- 2008 USM Preview | 2007 USM Preview
| 2006 USM Preview 

Head coach: Larry Fedora
2nd year: 7-6
Returning Lettermen:
Off. 17, Def. 22, ST 2
Lettermen Lost: 23
Ten Best USM Players
1. RB Damion Fletcher, Sr.
2. WR DeAndre Brown, Soph.
3. QB Austin Davis, Soph.
4. NT Anthony Gray, Jr.
5. FS Eddie Hicks, Sr.
6. LB Korey Williams, Soph.
7. OT Calvin Wilson, Sr.
8. OG Ryan Hebert, Sr.
9. CB Andre Watson, Sr.
10. LB Martez Smith, Jr.

2009 Schedule
CFN Prediction:
2009 Record: 0-0

9/5 Alcorn State
9/12 UCF
9/19 Virginia
9/26 at Kansas
10/1 at UAB
10/10 at Louisville
10/17 Memphis
10/24 Tulane
10/31 at Houston
11/14 at Marshall
11/21 Tulsa
11/28 at East Carolina

2008 Schedule
CFN Prediction: 8-4
2008 Record: 7-6

Aug. 30 UL Lafayette W 51-21
Sept. 6 at Auburn L 27-13
Sept. 13 at Arkansas St W 27-24
Sept. 20 Marshall L 34-27
Sept. 27 OPEN DATE
Oct. 4 UTEP L 40-37 2OT
Oct. 11 Boise State L 24-7
Oct. 18 at Rice L 45-40
Oct. 25 at Memphis L 36-30
Nov. 1 UAB W 70-14
Nov. 8 at UCF W 17-6
Nov. 15 East Carolina W 21-3
Nov. 29 at SMU W 28-12
New Orleans Bowl
Dec. 21 Troy 30-27 OT

Sound the attack. That’s been the catch phrase and the command around Hattiesburg since Larry Fedora arrived from Oklahoma State a year ago.

The Golden Eagles are attacking on every front, from offense and defense to recruiting and ticket sales. And it has begun to work. After a rough opening and some pining for former coach Jeff Bower, the program started to click last November, capping a season-ending five-game winning streak with a comeback win in the New Orleans. It was exactly the injection of momentum that Fedora needed heading into the offseason.

Although there’s plenty of growing to be done on offense and defense, Southern Miss looks to be heading in the right direction on both sides of the ball. The no-huddle spread flashed signs of life and a degree of balance in the final month that’ll vex even the best Conference USA defenses. With Austin Davis at quarterback, Damion Fletcher running the ball, and DeAndre Brown, assuming he’s healthy, streaking down the sidelines, there are striking similarities to Fedora’s old team in Stillwater. The defense, too, turned the corner under coordinator Todd Bradford, yielding an average of only 12 points over the final five games.

Southern Miss is attacking the complacency that had started to seep in toward the end of Bower’s tenure. With the wind at its back and plenty of key players returning for another season, the program is eyeing its first outright league championship since 2003.

What to watch for on offense: The health of DeAndre Brown, who’s trying to return form a badly broken leg. Southern Miss can survive without him, but how does it thrive sans a 6-6, 228-pound human mismatch, who caught 67 passes and scored a dozen touchdowns as a true freshman? He is a difference-maker, the type of wide receiver who forces opposing defensive coordinators to gameplan just to slow him down. If they fail, he’s liable to take a game over and open up the field for the backs and other receivers. It has been a long and painful recovery since last December’s injury, but he’s still hoping to be at full speed in time for the opener.

What to watch for on defense: Life after Gerald McRath. You don’t get better after losing your best player, a next level linebacker, right? Southern Miss is going to test that theory this fall. Sure, things would be a lot rosier had McRath stuck around for his senior year, but don’t be shocked if the Eagles are stingier this season than they were in 2008. Last season was a transition in every sense of the word. The coaches were different, the system was new, and the two-deep looked like a whiffle ball. This season, McRath aside, there’s a sense of stability permeating throughout the D. The line should be better. The secondary will be among the best in Conference USA. And if Korey Williams can begin to fill some of the void at middle linebacker, there’s hope that this crew will flourish.   

The team will be far better if… the defense plays all year like it did over the final five games of 2008. During that stretch, the Golden Eagles yielded an average of just 12 points a game, created more turnovers, and didn’t allow more than 100 yards rushing to any one opponent. At least for one month, they were the Nasty Bunch again. If Southern Miss can build on that momentum, it’ll have a feisty defense to go along with one of Conference USA’s most potent offenses.

The Schedule: Three of the last four games are on the road, including showdowns against Houston and East Carolina. However, the first three games are at home before going away from home to deal with Kansas and Louisville wrapped around the UAB game. Outside of a November game against Tulsa, it would be nice if there were bigger games at home. Going 2-2 in non-conference play is a must even though there are games against Virginia, at Kansas and at Louisville to go along with the scrimmage against Alcorn State.

Best offensive player: Senior RB Damion Fletcher. Fletcher’s not the biggest back around. He’s not the fastest, either. He is, however, one of the best backs in the country that you’ve probably never seen play. An extremely efficiency runner, he beats linebackers to the hole and has great vision. A 1,000-yard rusher in each of his three seasons, he’s also a reliable receiver out of the backfield.   

Best defensive player: Junior NT Anthony Gray. It’s not common for a nose tackle to lead a team in sacks, but then again, Gray is not your common defensive linemen. At 6-0 and 301 pounds, you can’t get a clean shot on this guy. He plays fast, intense, and low to the ground, often requiring more than one blocker to keep him out of the backfield. In a springboard sophomore year, he had 29 tackles, 7.5 tackles for loss, and six sacks, earning all-conference honors.    

Key player to a successful season: Sophomore WR DeAndre Brown. Simply put, he’s an SEC-caliber receiver going up against some really bad Conference USA defenses. He was unstoppable as a true freshman, pulling down a team-high 67 catches for 1,117 yards and 12 scores. The problem is that he’s trying to make it back from a devastating broken leg that cast a pall over the comeback bowl win. Southern Miss needs Brown to get back to where he was last fall, or else there’s no one on the roster who can even approach his big-play ability.

The season will be a success if ... the Eagles win eight games and improve their bowl positioning. Hey, there was nothing wrong with a New Orleans Bowl invite, especially after starting the year 2-6, but Southern Miss knows it can be better in Larry Fedora’s second season. While the team is good enough to win Conference USA, it’s still early in this process to label a championship as the make-or-break point for the school. If the Eagles keep fine-tuning the offense and win more games than last year, they’re headed in the right direction.  

Key game: Nov. 28 at East Carolina. With all due respect to the rest of the East Division, this should be the game that decides one-half of the Conference USA title game. The Eagles suffocated the Pirates a year ago, 21-3, but trips to Greenville are never easy. Whoever runs the ball better probably wins because both schools have outstanding defensive backfields and rarely allow big plays through the air.  

2008 Fun Stats: 
- Punt return average: Opponents 15 yards - Southern Miss 7.4 yards
- Penalties: Southern Miss 99 for 972 yards - Opponents 79 for 708 yards
- 4th down conversions: Southern Miss 18-of-26 (69%) - Opponents 5-of-13 (38%)