Competitions Headline Annual Spring Game

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Coming off the heels of a 3-9 record and third-straight losing season, Southern Miss will begin its journey to restore the winning tradition Saturday in the annual Black and Gold Spring Game.
Coming off the heels of a 3-9 record and third-straight losing season, Southern Miss will begin its journey to restore the winning tradition Saturday in the annual Black and Gold Spring Game.

Coming off the heels of a 3-9 record and third-straight losing season, Southern Miss will begin its journey to restore the winning tradition Saturday in the annual Black and Gold Spring Game.

The Golden Eagles have spent the past four weeks practicing in preparation for the game and upcoming season. There has been a few developing story lines, but none bigger than the quarterback competition between incumbent starter Nick Mullens and TCU transfer
Tyler Matthews.

Mullens started 10 games last season, throwing for 2,470 yards with 12 touchdowns and nine interceptions. Mullens certainly has the upper hand in regards to experience and knows head coach Todd Monken’s system well, but there is no denying the natural ability of Matthews.

Coming out of high school, Matthews was one of the most highly sought recruits in the nation. A four-star prospect, No. 6 ranked pro-style quarterback in the country and top overall recruit in Kansas, Matthews racked up an impressive list of scholarship offers before finally choosing TCU.

However, things did not quite work out for Matthews last spring as Trevone Boykin won the Horned Frogs’ quarterback competition, leading to Matthews’ decision to transfer.

He has a very strong arm and prototypical size for the position, but has made some mental mistakes in practice, whether it be holding the ball too long or turning it over.

Tyler’s been getting better throughout the spring,” Monken said. “He’s capable of making big plays, just has to eliminate the things that put us in harm’s way.”

Both quarterbacks have been impressive throughout the spring as they continue to receive equal reps in practice. Matthews has a stronger and more natural ability, but Mullens is the experienced leader that every coach wants. It will be interesting how things play out moving forward, but it is unlikely Monken names a starter before fall camp.

One of the biggest issues this spring has been the depth at running back with only Ito Smith, Tez Parks and Daythan Davis available. Davis has been used as solely an H-back since arriving on campus, but has been forced to help shoulder the load this spring. Jalen Richard has yet to participate this spring and George Payne has not participated in weeks and it appears their futures may be cloudy.

Richard is not with us, he’s working on his academics,” Monken said. “With the uncertainty with George, we can’t afford to lose anymore running backs; that’s why we’ve played Daythan there.”

There have not been many details released regarding Payne’s absence, which makes the situation in the backfield even more of a concern. Monken said that if the season started today, Smith would be the starter, but Parks drew high praise as well.

Tez is still learning how to play running back, but has a world of ability,” Monken said. “(He needs to learn) how to protect the football, how to understand pass protection, how to get north and south, but he’s going to be a really good player.”

Running the ball has been a weakness over the past few seasons for the Golden Eagles, and Monken knows that has to change.

We have to be able to run the ball when we want to run the ball,” he said. “Whether it’s coming out or goal-line, we just haven’t done a very good job of running it when we want to be able to.”

The defensive line is facing as much turnover as any other positional group on the roster. Three starters from last year’s line—Adam Williams, Dasman McCullum and Rakeem Nunez-Roches—have graduated, leaving many spots up for grabs. However, Monken believes that they have enough depth and talent to replace last year’s front.

Draper (Riley) really had a good day the other day and (Rod) Crayton has really come on,” he said. “Dylan Bradley, Wil Freeman and Mike Smith—I like all those guys. We could use Jabori Poole to come on. He’s slipped just based on effort. When we get those other guys to get in here this summer that we recruited, I think we’ll be fine.

There are a lot of storylines to watch Saturday with the aforementioned competitions, but also with players that really taken their game to the next level. One consistent standout this spring has been junior wide receiver D.J. Thompson.

Thompson has shown the ability to separate from defenders, make contested catches and become consistent, realizing the potential Monken always knew he had.

He’s really had a good spring, a real consistent spring. He’s made his fair share of plays,” Monken said. “He’s always been capable, but he’s obviously been playing a lot more consistent (than in the past).”

The Golden Eagles have hopes of having their first winning season since 2012 and may finally have the ability to do so. Monken has harped all spring that he feels this is the first time since he became the head coach that they have enough depth and talent to truly compete.

The Black and Gold Spring Game is set to kickoff at 1 p.m. at M.M. Roberts Stadium.