Five keys to success for 2012 season
Published: Thursday, September 13, 2012
Updated: Thursday, September 13, 2012 01:09
1. Adapting to new head coach Ellis Johnson:
Larry Fedora left the Southern Miss football program at an all-time high when he departed for North Carolina in the off-season, as the Golden Eagles posted a new school record in wins with an overall mark of 12-2 in 2011 and concluded the season with a 24-20 victory over the Nevada Wolfpack in the Sheraton Hawai’i Bowl.
Ellis Johnson steps in as head coach for the Golden Eagles in 2012 but at a very fleeting time for the program. He is surrounded by an entirely new coaching staff, as assistant coach Steve Buckely, offensive coordinator Rickey Bustle and defensive coordinator Tommy West are also first-year coaches at Southern Miss. West is keeping the same 4-2-5 defensive scheme implemented by last year’s defensive coordinator Dan Disch, but that can only provide so much stability for an inexperienced defense. Southern Miss is a very young team, so players buying into Johnson and his staff early on is crucial for the Golden Eagles in 2012.
2. Solidifying a starting quarterback early in the season:
With the large vacancy left at quarterback following the departure of all-time leading passer Austin Davis to the NFL, junior Chris Campbell, true freshman Anthony Alford and red-shirt freshman Ricky Lloyd are all battling for first-team reps to start the season. Campbell looks to have the upper-hand on the job, but Alford’s ability to open up the run game with his athleticism could earn him plenty of snaps under center. Regardless of who wins, naming a starting quarterback early in the season will yield more offensive consistency for the Golden Eagles in 2012.
3. Staying healthy:
Aside from Davis, the Golden Eagles return much of their offensive firepower from last season, but with a new quarterback under center, it is more important than ever that the surrounding offensive play-makers stay healthy all season. On the defensive side of the ball, the Golden Eagles return only four starters, so it is equally vital that injuries do not deplete an already unproven defensive unit.
4. Running the ball effectively by committee:
A season-ending knee injury to Desmond Johnson in 2011 could ultimately be a blessing in disguise for the Golden Eagles, as they return three proven running backs for their 2012 campaign. With Kendrick Hardy’s nagging hamstring injury, Johnson is likely to see a majority of the touches early in the season. However, both Johnson and Hardy have rushed for over 1,000 yards in their careers, and Jeremy Hester gives the Golden Eagles an added dimension to their prolific rushing attack. Last season, Southern Miss rushed for an average of 205.1 yards per game, good for 20th in the nation. Producing similar numbers in 2012 will be a difficult feat without Davis and his ability to stretch the defense with the vertical passing game, but running the ball efficiently could buy the Golden Eagles several victories in 2012.
5. Utilizing the versatility of Tracy Lampley and Jamie Collins:
The all-purpose Tracy Lampley has already exceeded 1,000 career yards for kickoff return and is only 31, 95 and 184 yards away from topping 1,000 career yards in rushing, receiving and punt return, respectively. He is the spark-plug for the Golden Eagles on offense and special teams, so his explosive play-making ability needs to a major component of the Golden Eagles’ scoring attack, especially early in the season while Southern Miss identifies its starting quarterback.
On the opposite side of the ball, Jamie Collins has the ability to play as a down lineman or linebacker in West’s 4-2-5 defensive scheme. His athleticism allows him to disrupt the passing game when he drops into coverage, but he is also a threat when he rushes the quarterback, recording 6.5 sacks in 2011. His 98 total tackles were good for second best on the team last season, but an even stronger 2012 campaign is key for the overall success of the defense this season.