Coming this fall we will post an opponent scouting report on Thursdays. We’re going to break Southern Miss up into three separate posts as the opener is rapidly approaching. This installment will focus solely on defensive personnel and 2015 statistics. Next Thursday, we’ll dissect the offense which is the USM’s strength. The final scouting report will bring it all together by discussing schemes, tendencies, and individual matchups.
The Golden Eagles lost its top three defenders to graduation and the NFL. Gone are DE Michael Smith, LB Brian Anderson, and CB Kalan Reed from a defense that only surrendered 18 points per game. However, it’s key to also know that Southern Miss surrendered an average of 486 total yards and 38 points in its five losses. Teams that hung half of a thousand were: Nebraska, Mississippi State, WKU, Texas State (not a loss) and Washington. To be blunt, the majority USM’s 2015 opponents were not exactly offensive juggernauts. Opponents from last season that had the ability and personnel to rack up large sums of yards and points did so at will.
New head coach Jay Hopson is defensive-minded and has immense experience as a defensive coordinator. Much like the situation at Kentucky, Southern Miss defensive coordinator Tony Pecoraro has the title but Hopson will have vast input in play calling and personnel decisions. Traditionally, Hopson has deployed an odd man front or a variation of the 3-4 defense. This could vary on September 3rd as he and his staff may make adjustments due to personnel and opponent. It’s led by three preseason All-Conference USA defenders: linebacker/Safety D’Nerius Antoine, safety Picasso Nelson, and defensive lineman Dylan Bradley.
Dylan Bradley produced 6.5 quarterback sacks and 12.5 tackles for loss in 2015. One of Hopson’s first rumored personnel moves was to kick Bradley inside from defensive end to nose tackle. Undersized for that position, USM is banking on his disruptive nature, quick-burst start, and endless motor to influence the quarterback-center exchange as well as adding a frustration to it interior pass rush. If Bradley’s position change is indeed true, then Kentucky will benefit. Bradley will be lined up against the Cats’ best offensive lineman, center Jon Toth, as less pressure will be felt from its weakest point at tackle.
D’Nerius Antoine was all over the field a year ago. Antoine’s 2015 can only be labeled as dominant. He led USM in tackles (103), forced fumbles (4), and interceptions (2) from his Rover or hybrid linebacker/safety position. Four 4/5 returning leading tacklers are all second or third level players. This helps to explain why Southern Miss surrendered such large point and yardage totals against quality offenses last season.
Safety Picasso Nelson finished 2015 as the team’s third leading tackler by accumulating 59 tackles (42 solos) and 5 tackles for loss. The cerebral defensive back is strong against the run and highly aggressive by nature. Coupled with Antoine and linebacker corps, USM’s secondary is an attacking group but struggled against opponents with proficient passing games.
KEY DEFENSIVE PERSONNEL
- Dylan Bradley: 6’1, 265
- Ja’Boree Poole: 6’2, 250
- Rod Crayton: 6’1, 287
- Darian Yancey: 6’1, 250
- Sherrod Ruff: 5’10, 215
- Elijah Parker: 6’2, 220
- D’Nerius Antoine: 6’0, 215
- Jeremy Sangster: 6’0, 233
- Picasso Nelson: 5’10, 195
- Cornell Armstrong: 5’11, 180
- Trae Collins: 5’11, 184
- Devonta Foster: 6’0, 190
What does all this mean?
While Southern Miss finished third in Conference USA’s total defense category, it did not perform well against Power 5 opponents. Undersized throughout its lineup, USM relies on disruption, explosive plays, and speed which are all suitable for conference play. I give UK’s offense a significant advantage in this game. Statistically supported, this theory correlates with projection for the Cats to score a high number of points in the opener. Below is a statistical analysis that compares UK and USM’s season defensive totals. However, it’s imperative to remember that Southern Miss surrendered an average of 38 points and over 486 total yards in its five losses from a year ago.
|151.86||Rush Yards Allowed||196.08||44.2|
|227.6||Pass Yards Allowed||198.1||29.5|
|95||Tackles for Loss||53||42|
|37.33%||3rd Down Conversion||39.43%||2.1%|