Former University of Kentucky Offensive Coordinator Shannon Dawson was hired by Southern Mississippi. Dawson’s hiring also marked the internal demotion of previously promoted OC Jeff Wosniak back to Receivers/Special Teams Coordinator. In addition to offensive changes made by new head coach Jay Hopson, former Defensive Coordinator Dave Duggar was not retained. Hopson’s background is on the defensive side of the football. Lots of moving parts and drama in Hattiesburg. Oh by the way, Kentucky hosts Southern Miss in the season opener on September 3.
Question remains, will Shannon Dawson have the week one advantage based on his knowledge of DJ Eliot’s defense or will Eliot trump his former peer by understanding Dawson’s play calling patterns?
In all football situations, offense will always have the advantage due to pre-snap knowledge of impending play. Defense is reactive by nature, but can dictate from blitz packages, coverage alterations, and run stunts. What’s certain to be a chess match in early September, we first have to look at the Jimmies and Joes before we dissect the X’s and O’s.
Shannon Dawson inherits quarterback Nick Mullens and his 4,476 yards, 38 touchdowns and quarterback efficiency rating of 155.2. He led the Golden Eagles to 39.9 points per game while averaging 509 total offensive yards, quite the contrast from UK’s 2015 production — or lack thereof. In addition to Mullens, RB Ito Smith and his 1156 rushing yards and 10 touchdowns come back for another run at a conference title.
With the influx of eligible transfer linebackers Courtney Love and De’Niro Laster and JUCO defenders Naquez Pringle and Jordan Bonner, Kentucky’s front seven will have a distinctively altered look than during the abbreviated Dawson’s Lexington stay. UK’s secondary is expected to be the team’s defensive strength but lost its leader in Derrick Ansley. An experienced and proven teacher coach will be key in how the highly talented defensive backs continue to improve and execute.
Advantage DJ Eliot if: Kentucky manufactures a pass rush which will emphasize secondary skill. UK will win if it produces three QB sacks, four to five Tackles for Loss, and at least one interception. In summary, forcing turnovers will be mandatory. Additionally, it must hold Smith to less than 75 rushing yards. A fast and field position changing defensive start is imperative.
Advantage Dawson if: Above does not happen and Mullen has four to five seconds to analyze the Kentucky defense in pre-throw. Also, if RB Ito Smith establishes within tackle-box rushing success, could be a long day for the blue and white. Most likely, these keys will be established within the first quarter and second quarter.
Fringe Factors: Two staunch Shannon Dawson supporters are now quarterbacking elsewhere. On the same day of Dawson’s return, Patrick Towles and Boston College will be playing Georgia Tech in Dublin, Ireland. Given geographical location and uniqueness of situation, the game will warrant attention. Montana and Reese Phillips will be playing St. Francis at home. A lesser status game, but another factor that equates in the Dawson homecoming. If both succeed along with Dawson, heads will be scratched and frustrations will flow.
Motivation: Other than the two mentioned above, not a great deal of offensive personnel supportive rhetoric came from the Nutter Center. New OC Eddie Gran will be making his BBN debut against the coach he replaced. This post focuses on Dawson v Eliot, but Gran/Hinshaw must be taken into consideration. Opening day will be telling of player buy-in. If UK’s talented group of skill players are dialed in and seeking vengeance, the Cats will start and finish the game in the end zone.
Following a highly disappointing 2015, Mark Stoops’ entered unchartered waters. Those waters were filled with sharks, not pleasant “Flipper” dolphins. Change was demanded. Stoops delivered. September 3 will gauge the effectiveness of his mid-career program adjustments.
Expectation: Realizing we’re six months out and understanding this post is a way-too-early look at a non-conference game; Southern Miss’s addition of Shannon Dawson adds intrigue and offseason motivation. Mark Stoops’ intent will be to emphasize change through opening game performance. Shannon Dawson will be seeking career redemption while proving his worth to new employer. Don’t expect pregame hugs and kisses.
September 3 can’t get here quick enough. Grudge matches are fun. For two teams with little-to-no history, there will be no love lost between Kentucky and Southern Miss.