Last year Southern Miss’ defense allowed 207.5 rushing yards per game, 219.0 passing yards per game and a whopping 37.8 points per game. Those statistics aren’t encouraging. The 2013 defense will look better and that’s because of David Duggan.
Duggan has returned to Hattiesburg as the Golden Eagles defensive coordinator after spending last season as outside linebackers and special teams coach at North Carolina. He spent four years coaching at Southern Miss as a linebackers coach and some of his pupils include Korey Williams, Ronnie Thornton and Jamie Collins.
He spent the 2011-2012 football season as a co-defensive coordinator under former Golden Eagles head coach Larry Fedora. He helped lead the team to a 12-2 record and a Conference USA championship due to timely takeaways by the defense.
Duggan is already accustomed to using a 4-2-5 formation, the Eagles base defense. Since linebackers are probably the most important part of this formation, and Duggan’s specialty, the defense is set to be significantly better than last year.
Duggan has already worked with USM’s two starting linebackers, Alan Howze and Dylan Reda.
“I was pumped,” Howze said when he found out Duggan was returning. “He brought me in, he recruited me [and] he enabled my scholarship to happen.”
“He was the one that taught me everything about being a linebacker,” he added.
“Dylan and Alan have been the leaders of our defense this summer,” Duggan said. “They’re constantly in the film room and constantly working on the field.”
Howze recorded 66 total tackles last season, with 5 tackles for loss and 2.5 sacks. His stats were second only to linebacker Jamie Collins, who was drafted by the New England Patriots in the 2nd round of the 2013 NFL draft. Reda had 55 total tackles with 2.5 tackles for loss, one interception and two forced fumbles. Both linebackers played in all 12 games last season. The rest of the defense seems to be solid as well.
Redshirt senior Octavius Thomas will play at the bandit position, meaning he can be a fourth defensive lineman, or step back and be a third linebacker. He’ll have big shoes to fill as a replacement for Collins. Collins started all 12 games last season, achieving 92 tackles, 20 tackles for loss, ten sacks and four forced fumbles.
Head coach Todd Monken believes the safety position will be a strength. This year, the safeties are led by junior Emmanuel Johnson, who had 48 tackles last year, 30 of which were solo.
At the spur position is senior defensive back Jerrion Johnson. He had five pass breakups and five deflected passes, but also recorded 3.5 tackles for loss. As a hybrid position, the spur will be fairly important by allowing the USM defense to consistently counter and attack any offense.
Cornerbacks Ed Wilkins and Kalan Reed will start on Saturday. Though Wilkins is a redshirt sophomore and Reed a true sophomore, their talent and speed make up for what they lack in experience. Senior Deron Wilson provides great depth at this position, having had a 20-yard interception return, nine pass breakups and ten pass deflections last year.
The defensive line will be a strong unit. Rakeem Nunez-Roches, Khyri Thornton and Michael Smith will head up this position group. These three defensive linemen started in at least ten games last season, combining for 22.5 tackles for loss, three sacks and an interception.
In spite of all the statistics and all the talk, it comes down to whether or not the Golden Eagle defense is ready for the Texas State offense. The Bobcats will enter Saturday’s game without knowing who their starting quarterback will be. As of now, it’s a toss-up between Tyler Arndt and Jordan Moore. Arndt was 22 for 56 last year with one touchdown and three interceptions and Moore is a true freshman who has only played in the spring game.
If Arndt starts, the Golden Eagle defense might find Saturday’s game a little easy. If Moore plays, the defense will have their hands full with Texas State starting five talented receivers who combined for 1,382 yards last year. In the spring game, Moore flashed his dual-threat ability that is an aspect Arndt cannot match.
If the defense is really as good as the coaches have indicated, there will be nothing to worry about.
Southern Miss fans, get yourselves ready for the revival of “the Nasty Bunch.”