After falling to Mississippi State 34-16 in a game that was much closer than the score indicates, the Golden Eagles (0- 1) will look to pick up their first win of the season Saturday at home against Austin Peay (0-1).
The Governers are coming off a 28-7 loss to Mercer and went just 1-11 last season as an FCS school. In 2013, they went 0-12 and scored more than 14 points just once. Despite Austin Peay’s lack of success, Southern Miss head coach Todd Monken is not taking this matchup lightly.
“You can see their improvement from last year,” Monken said. “They’ve got more talent. They have played awfully hard and we are excited to have them come into The Rock this week.”
However, much of Monken’s message in his press conference Monday was coach speak. The
reality is Austin Peay is nowhere close to USM in terms of talent. This game is more about USM figuring themselves out and establishing an identity than it is about the opponent.
This game comes at a good time for the Golden Eagles as they will have the luxury of testing some things against an inferior opponent. There has already been a few shakes up in the depth chart from week one to week two.
The most important is that the quarterback competition has been put to rest as Nick Mullens has once again taken the reigns as the starter. Despite throwing two interceptions against the Bulldogs, Mullens delivered an inspiring performance.
Throwing for over 300 yards and completing almost 70 percent of his passes is always good, but it was toughness and moxie that stood out. There were several occasions when he stood tall in the pocket and delivered the ball knowing he was about take a big hit.
He was harassed by the MSU front seven throughout the game, but he kept his composure, made tough throws, kept drives alive and, most importantly, kept USM in the game. Monken came away impressed with his performance.
“He made some really good throws under duress. (Mississippi State) is a good football team. That is a good front. That is a good staff. I thought he did some really good things.” – Monken
One of the biggest surprises is what the coaching staff has decided to do with the tight end position. Going into the season, Taylor Marini and Julian Allen were expected to get all the reps, but Jay’Shawn Washington got the start with Ricky Parks spelling him.
Neither were listed at the position on the initial depth chart and Parks was listed as a defensive end. However, both
played well and Monken still expects Marini and Allen to play roles within the offense.
“(Parks) played tight end at Auburn so that was an easier transition and it is only going to get better,” he said. “Jay’Shawn Washington did some good things and we are hopeful to have him this week. We will see where Taylor (Marini) is at as we keep going and also Julian (Allen).”
On defense, Michael Smith is moving back inside to defensive tackle after playing week one at end. Darian Yancey will take Smith’s place outside while Andrew Bolton will take over at the nose for Wil Freeman.
The linebacking corps is getting shaken up to with Anthony Swain taking over as the will linebacker and Elijah Parker is moving from the will to the strong side linebacker.
With these defensive adjustments, it is clear defensive coordinator David Duggan and Monken are focused on making their defense more athletic. Adding Swain into the starting lineup will give the front seven another downhill run stopper which it sorely lacked in the second half last week.
The star of the defense so far has been newcomer D’Nerius Antoine. He was all over the field against the Bulldogs and consistently came downhill from his safety position and delivered big hits, something this defense lacked a year ago.
The Golden Eagle defense will be tasked with defending the Governors’ spread attack this week, which it should be able to handle easily. The Governors averaged just 1.7 yards per carry last week and failed to muster 200 yards passing despite throwing the ball 33 times.
Look for the Golden Eagles to take care of Austin Peay rather handily on Saturday and pick up their first win of the season. Kickoff is at 2:30 p.m.