It’s been tough sledding for Southern Mississippi head coach Todd Monken since he took over the Golden Eagles in 2013. And that’s being rather generous.
A 4-20 record and just a pair of conference wins in his two years at the helm, Monken’s been handed a depleted group to tinker with, especially on offense.
Punching the clock at 106th in the nation via total offense in 2014, perhaps returning starters and a wave of transfers can get the ball rolling.
2014 Record: 3-9
Key Wins: at North Texas, Appalachian State
Key Losses: Alabama-Birmingham
Players to Watch: RB Justice Hayes, WR Michael Thomas
2015 Offensive Preview
Junior quarterback Nick Mullens will hope that the third time is a charm, as he will lead the offense once more in 2015.
He posted middle-of-the-pack figures in 2014 with 2,470 and 12 touchdowns, while nearly hitting the 60% mark in terms of completion percentage. While I typically make points of how it “starts up front with your quarterback,” the actual men up front return a wide stretch of experience on the line, led by senior tackles Rashod Hill and Norman Price.
The Golden Eagles welcome in Michigan running back Justice Hayes, a superb athlete that was granted a graduate transfer in the spring. He’ll compete with Jalen Richard, sophomore Ito Smith and junior George Payne for the job, as neither really emerged as a capable regular in 2014.
One guy on the outside that I highlighted is senior wide receiver receiver Michael Thomas, as he led all Golden Eagles with 592 yards last season. Fellow senior Casey Martin dazzled in his first year as a Golden Eagle (transfer out of Houston), nipping at Thomas’s heels with 531 yards himself.
Juniors D.J. Thompson and Marquise Ricard also saw plenty of action which can ultimately increase their roles come fall, and the latter will also be entering his third year in the Southern Mississippi scheme.
While there’s a minuscule chance for Monken’s offense to regress from 2014’s numbers, the talent and experience is more than capable of uplifting this unit. Don’t be surprised if Southern Miss jumps in the offensive ranks, and I’ll make a bold prediction that they finish within the respectable C-USA logjam (Old Dominion, Middle Tennessee, Florida Atlantic) for 2015.
2015 Defensive Preview
Quarterback pressure came few and far in between in 2014, but the front seven appears experienced with a large group of upperclassmen. Senior defensive tackle Wil Freeman has played in each game since the beginning of the 2013 season and will solidify the front four.
It was a stagnant rush that accumulated just 14 sacks on the season, pinning Southern Miss at the bottom of the nation.
The secondary brings back a couplet of cornerbacks in Cornell Armstrong and Kalan Reed, but it’s a long ways from a sturdy group.
The Golden Eagles haven’t had much success in regards to 2015 opponents; if you peeked back at each prior match up, Southern Mississippi is just 1-8, being outscored by 20.7 points on average.
I don’t see this team making a drastic jump in 2015, but I love the potential of the offensive unit. They can handle Austin Peay and perhaps stymie Texas State on the road, along with potential coin flips of Texas-El Paso, Old Dominion, North Texas and Charlotte.
If I’m Todd Monken, I attempt to push the tempo and use a mix of guys on the outside to propel the offense. If they can somehow whip up even the tiniest of sparks, I have the Golden Eagles concluding the year at 4-8, which is a semi-decent jump from a season ago.