During Southern Miss’ 55-7 season-opening victory against Jackson State on Saturday night, many concerns surrounding the team were put to rest while a few new questions popped up. Below are some of the biggest takeaways from the game.
- Quez Watkins is the go-to option at wide receiver
Against the Tigers, Watkins lived up to the hype that surrounded him during the offseason. The sophomore receiver was quarterback Jack Abraham’s go-to target during the game. In the first half, Watkins grabbed seven passes for 114 receiving yards and two touchdowns. He finished the game with 138 receiving yards and three receiving touchdowns.
Watkins found much of his success during the game by getting into open space while running comeback and curl routes. In addition to his role on offense, Watkins flashed his special teams potential with an 81-yard punt return for a touchdown in the second quarter.
After the game, Watkins talked about the rapport he and Abraham have developed so far.
“Me and Jack have been at it since the summer, since he got here,” Watkins said. “This week, we’ve just been staying after practice and making sure everything is on point.”
- Abraham is settled in at quarterback
At one point this offseason, sophomore quarterback Jack Abraham was in a crowded competition for the starting quarterback position. However, due to Keon Howard’s transfer and Kwadra Griggs’ suspension, the sophomore signal caller has found himself as the Golden Eagles starting quarterback to start the 2018 season.
Abraham showed that he maintains a solid grip on that job with his solid performance against Jackson State, completing 21-of-27 passes for 242 yards and four touchdowns. Abraham looked accurate on most of his throws on the night and often found wide open receivers against the Jackson State defense.
Due to his team’s large lead in the second half, Abraham was pulled in the third quarter and was replaced by redshirt freshman Marcelo Rodriguez, who split time with Tate Whatley for the rest of the game.
While there is much more football to be played, Abraham had as good of a debut as one can have.
- Running game still unsettled
With so many talented running backs on the roster this season, the expectation all along was for the offense to employ a committee approach at the running back position. The team did just that against Jackson State.
Early on in the first half, seniors Tez Parks and T’Rod Daniels split time in the backfield. Although the team finished with 202 yards on the ground, many of those yards occurred in garbage time. Southern Miss also did not reach the 100-yard mark in terms of total rushing yards until the fourth quarter.
Nevertheless, the team stuck to the committee approach, and the high score allowed freshmen Steven Anderson and Trivensky Mosley to receive carries in the second half. While the running game against Jackson State may not have been what fans are used to seeing, allowing multiple players to get carries is beneficial to helping determine the rotation for the rest of the season.
- Defense is still racking up turnovers
In 2017, the Southern Miss defense recorded 18 total turnovers. The defense continued to generate turnovers and took advantage of those opportunities, notching four total turnovers in the contest and scoring 21 points off of turnovers.
One of the defensive highlights of the game was when senior defensive back Xavier Marion scooped up a fumble for a score in the second quarter and took it 26 yards for a touchdown. Southern Miss also prevented the Jackson State defense from reaching the 100-yard mark of total offense until the third quarter, with the Tigers finishing with only 118 yards through the air. The overall performance of the secondary against Jackson State was solid and a good sign for things to come.
- Is there a Possible backup quarterback controversy in the cards?
Once Abraham left the game in the third quarter, Rodriguez initially took over at quarterback. However, the redshirt freshman threw an interception on his first career pass and finished the night with two interceptions.
True freshman Whatley also saw game action in the second half. While he did not record a pass, he showed promise in the run game, running four times for 41 yards and a 15-yard rushing touchdown with 2:48 left to play in the game.
Southern Miss Head Coach Jay Hopson said that the plan all along was for Rodriguez and Whatley to both receive snaps if the opportunity presented itself during the game.
“I think one of the things we’ve got to always work on is developing as many players as we can,” Hopson said. “At quarterback for sure is no exception, so it was good to see those guys in action. I really thought Tate had a good second half.”
Overall, Whatley seems to be the player who will be first in line on the depth chart behind Abraham. However, nothing is officially set in stone, and Rodriguez may get a few more opportunities during the season.