Senior Chase Scott makes a catch against defensive player Walden Davis in the spring football game Saturday morning in M.M. Roberts Stadium. – Susan Broadbridge/Printz
Southern Miss ended its spring camp with the annual Black and Gold game at M.M. Roberts Stadium Saturday morning. The white team won the game 22-14 to close out the spring.
“It’s a culmination of your work in the offseason and then the practices leading up to it,” said Southern Miss head coach Todd Monken. “The reason you work so hard and practice so hard is that so you can reap the benefits.”
The quarterback competition went into public action today as Nick Mullens and Tyler Matthews went head-to-head for the black and white teams, respectively.
Mullens is in the midst of a quarterback controversy despite being the starting quarterback since midway through his freshman season. Last year, Mullens threw for 2,470 yards and 12 touchdowns for a quarterback efficiency rating of 122.5. With those numbers and his experience within the system, an argument could be made that Mullens should remain the starter, but Monken has been indecisive on the subject for the upcoming season.
“From what I can recall, we just weren’t that consistent offensively and that’s what happens when you divide up teams,” Monken said. “Nick (Mullens) does certain things well and Tyler (Matthews) does certain things well.”
Mullens started the game for the Black team and completed 17-29 passes for 224 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions, one of which was costly in the end.
Mullens had a chance to tie the game with a touchdown and a two-point conversion in the last two minutes of the game, starting at his own 40-yard line. Looking to push the ball downfield with the clock ticking down, he was rattled by defensive line pressure, throwing an interception to Deshadrick Truly. After the play, the game was called.
Matthews has shown his arm strength and elite skillset throughout the spring. Matthews was a four-star recruit and the No. 6 pro-style recruit out of McPherson High School in Kansas before committing to TCU. Matthews saw limited action as a redshirt freshman for TCU and came to Southern Miss with the intention of starting.
Matthews got the win on the day, throwing touchdowns to presumed starters Michael Thomas and D.J. Thompson.
“Having playmakers like (Michael) Thomas and D.J. (Thompson) and all the guys we have out there is awesome,” Matthews said. “It just comes down to having faith in them and letting them make a play on the ball.”
Matthews finished 18-of-35 for 326 yards and two touchdowns. Matthews showed good accuracy and poise on the day, but did also throw for one interception to Jerry McCorvey.
“What I think translates is our guys’ effort, energy and body language and how hard they want to work to get this program back on top,” Monken said. “You hope the things you see every day (in practice) is going to translate.”
Sophomore Picasso Nelson, Jr., played on the losing black squad and has made the transition to safety after spending his freshman season as a starting cornerback. The Golden Eagles lost both of their starting safeties from last year’s squad to graduation.
“It’s different playing safety, but I like it,” he said. “We learn (from) our mistakes and we’ll definitely get better.”
Depth is the key for the upcoming season as injuries have hampered a thin Golden Eagle roster the past few seasons, especially on the offensive line. Matthews believes the depth on the offensive line this season will help out the deep passing game.
“You just gotta have time for those deep balls,” Matthews said. “We connected on some of those because of the time I had.”
Michael Thomas came in the game as the team’s No. 1 receiver, catching a touchdown on a fade route in the back of the end zone from Matthews.
“I’m always looking for the deep ball—I know I can do that,” Thomas said. “I’m trying to perfect all my routes basically, but the deep ball, I got that down pat.”
It was a defensive battle as both quarterbacks could not get much going, due to heavy pressure. The defensive line was the bright spot of the day as they were able to keep pressure on both quarterbacks. With past defensive line stars leaving, the depth will finally show on the field.
The defensive line has produced the likes of Khyri Thornton (who plays for the Green Bay Packers), Rakeem Nunez-Roches, (who should be a mid-round draft pick) and Jamie Collins in recent years. Dylan Bradley is slated to fill the shoes as a force upfront as a junior; he finished last year with 52 tackles and three sacks. Michael Smith and Xavier Thigpen each had two sacks Saturday and will help fill in the depth on the defensive line.
Running back has been a concern all spring with a limited amount of runners available. Ito Smith, the team’s primary starter last season, did not receive any carries in the spring
game as a precaution.
Daythan Davis and Tez Parks were the two primary backs in the spring game. Davis had just 26 yards on nine carries, while Parks gained 70 yards on 18 carries. Jalen Richard has missed the majority of the spring with academic issues and George Payne missed most of the spring with injury issues.
Although the depth chart has been mostly set, the team is awaiting the arrivals of the rest of their 2015 signing class. Sixteen players from the class have yet to make their way to campus, but should improve depth.
The Golden Eagles will resume practice in the fall and hope to improve on a 3-9 season from a year ago. The first game of the season is Sept. 5 against Mississippi State at home.