This season, Southern Miss will have to replace Ito Smith, who is the second all-time leading rusher in Southern Miss history at 4,606 yards and their all-time all-purpose yards leader. Last year alone, Smith ran for 1,483 yards and 13 touchdowns and caught for another 396 yards and five touchdowns through the air.
Rather than trying to find the next Ito Smith, the prime focus should be on duplicating Smith’s numbers. This year the Golden Eagles have at least four running backs, three of whom are seniors, who are capable of doing that. The real question is determining how to manage a crowded running back room.
“Right now it’s easy to coach them because they all want to play,” running back coach Les Koenning said. “It’s been an advantage for myself in a unique situation where you have a bunch of guys who want to play. We would like to get where we can play them in any situation because what happens when you are a tempo team [is that] you have got to be able to run all the plays.”
Daniels ran for 172 yards and two touchdowns last season, and he saw some snaps last year for an injured Tez Parks. Although Daniels saw limited action, he averaged 7.6 yards a carry. Out of all the running backs in fall camp, Daniels may have had the strongest camp. Daniels is arguably the fastest running back of the entire unit, which makes him deadly if he can turn the corner. While his speed is key to his game, he looks better equipped to be more physical compared to last spring.
“When he puts his foot in the ground he can really change gears,” Koenning said.
Parks has had to deal with several injuries in his time at Southern Miss. However, he has shown glimpses of success, most notably in last year’s Louisiana Tech game as he stepped in for an injured Smith. Last year he ran for 274 yards and a touchdown overall. Parks is another bruiser but is also shifty and can make cuts that makes him hard to be stopped. Parks will also be involved in the passing game this season, as he had 11 catches for 83 yards in 2017.
From quarterback to tight end to running back, Anderson is a 245-pound, 6-foot-2 force as he may have finally found his rightful place at running back. The best way to describe him is like the Chicago Bears former running back William “The Refrigerator” Perry. Anderson will be the go-to guy in short situations. He is extremely hard to bring down, but as camp progressed Anderson could average five yards per carry with the offensive line and his size. He will be a force for any C-USA defense this season, and his numbers will be something to watch.
“He’s probably been the healthiest guy,” offensive coordinator Shannon Dawson said. “He has gotten a lot of reps and has gotten a lot of good quality reps. You are going to see him for sure. I’m excited about Steven.”
Payne enters his sixth year after medically redshirting with a hip injury last year. Payne had been Ito’s counterpart in the backfield for almost three seasons. In his career, he scored 10 touchdowns and put together 1,049 all-purpose yards. Payne has missed a chunk of fall camp due to injury at the start of camp, but at the moment he appears to be healthy. Payne is effective when sharing carries, but staying healthy is his biggest concern for 2018.
“Experience helps,” head coach Jay Hopson said. “That’s no different than anywhere we battle; whether it’s the quarterback position or the running back position, experience helps. Having Tez and George, they’ve played some snaps. Tez played a lot of snaps two years ago so that helps.”
Darius Maberry/Trivenskey Mosley:
Although an unfamiliar name, Maberry went down with an injury in the spring that required surgery. Maberry saw several first-team reps midway through camp as Daniels, Payne and Parks were sidelined by minor injury. He has some nasty breakaway speed similar to Daniels.
“Maberry is back off his injury from last spring,” Koenning said. “He’s got great feet and a great change of direction. With Maberry it’s him trying to get his confidence back on his knees.
A freshman, Mosley saw significant playing time in fall camp after several of the running backs went down with injuries. Both left an impression after camp, so they may see some early snaps in the year but both will definitely be names to remember in the future.
“We’ve got Trivenskey Mosley who comes in for us as a freshman,” Koenning said “He’s done an extremely good job. He [has] elusiveness. He is a little like Tez with the shiftiness.”
This running back group is a fairly experienced and talented bunch but staying healthy is a concern to have. The plan to use the running backs will be by going with the guy who has the hot hand and by committee.
“I think this year more than last year we will be a little bit more running back by committee,” offensive coordinator Shannon Dawson said. “But when saying that too you ultimately have to go with the guy who is hot and so I don’t think it’s fair especially at that position and say ‘we’re going to rotate like this’ because when a guy is hot you better keep feeding him. I think on our part we have to be very smart one the ones we put into the game.”
Running back will again be an essential role in the offense, and with so many different possibilities at the unit, going by committee may be the best way to see efficient production at the position.
“We’re not baptizing anybody at the start or a guy who’s getting 25-30 carries,” Hopson said. “They’ve got to prove it on the field. That’s the reality. If we’ve got to go by committee and have four different running backs tote it, that’s what we’ll do. I think we have a tremendous amount of talent at that position. I really do and that’s the good thing about [it], one of them can’t rest when the other ones are on their heels.”