This post begins a series leading up to our season-opening game against the Southern Miss. Golden Eagles. Today we're going to look at Southern Miss.'s defense. We'll take a look at some of the numbers from last season, what kind of talent the Golden Eagles bring at each position, and give an overall assessment.
Base defense: 4-3
Returning Starters: 9
Key 2010 Rankings: 80th in Total Defense, 62nd in Scoring Defense, 43rd in Rushing Defense, 109th in Pass Defense
Defensive Line: This is the heart of the USM defense. USM returns all four starters from a group that was relatively good against the run and great at getting to the quarterback. USM ranked 18th in the country in sacks last season, and much of it was due to the play on the line, as the USM coaching staff prefers to bring pressure with its line rather than with blitzes. One of the more impressive thing about this group of players is its size. Oftentimes when you play non-BCS competition, you'll see that the guys in the trenches are a little bit smaller than the ones you face when you go up against elite SEC competition. That's not so with USM. The Golden Eagles' starting tackles weigh 285 and 315. Their starting ends weigh 245 and 251, which is a little smaller than you see sometimes in the SEC, but still respectable, especially considering how well they play. USM also has good depth here and should be able to keep everyone fresh.
Linebackers: This is again a strength for USM. All starters return from what was a solid unit against the run last season. The group wasn't always good against the pass, though, which doesn't shine well on a linebacking crew that was oftentimes relied on to help out in coverage rather than rush the passer.
Continue reading after the jump.
Defensive Backfield: The Golden Eagles have some question marks here. Reports out of practice have been that they feel like they'll be better against the pass this year than last, which would go a long way to helping them achieve more--pass defense was this team's Achilles Heel last year. Those numbers are somewhat deceiving because Conference USA has a few teams like the Houston Cougars that can really air it out pretty well, but the fact remains that this group got picked on a lot last year. One particular concern is that their corners are a little short, meaning that bigger receivers can pick on them.
Analysis: We're being told--although we were falsely told this last year, too, so take it with a grain of salt--that this year's Carolina team is going to run the ball more. If that's true, I'm not certain if it will play into USM's hand or not. The Golden Eagles' numbers against the run are good, but as I mentioned, they play a lot of teams that don't run the ball much. Their coaches have stated that they've had to adjust their preparations for us to some degree. That said, the experienced talent on their front is legit, so there's little reason to believe that the better-than-average numbers aren't meaningful.
With this is mind, it might make sense for us to go to the air a little bit. While USM is good at rushing the passer, which has been a major problem for us for Spurrier's entire tenure, we should be able to take advantage of USM's corners. We have a major height advantage there, so some jump balls deep might not be out of the question. Another thing to keep in mind is that while USM had some success against the run, they had some problems with mobile QBs. Both Stephen Garcia and Connor Shaw can move a little bit, so there could be some yards to be had that way.
Stay tuned for a discussion of USM's offense.