Welcome to Friday, where it's the day before the Southern Miss Golden Eagles take off from Hattiesburg and the remnants of Hurricane Issac and head northwest for the 2012 season opener against the Nebraska Cornhuskers.
To better know your opponent, we asked Landon Howell of fancred.com a few questions about the Golden Eagles. He gave us some good answers about both sides of the ball, as well as a special teams worry for Nebraska.
1. Ellis Johnson came back to Hattiesburg after Larry Fedora’s breakthrough C-USA title season last year. Do you expect him to keep the level of play the same, or do you believe there will be the level will drop at all?
Overall I think Southern Miss will see less finesse, more fundamentals under Ellis Johnson. Coach Fedora's system, especially on the defensive side of the ball was often "boom or bust". Case in point: In 2011 Southern Miss manhandled offensive powerhouse Houston and Case Keenum, but lost to both Marshall and UAB. On the offensive side of the ball look for more running plays, especially those up the middle behind an experienced o-line. In addition, I think Southern Miss will see a lot less of the true spread offense under Ellis, who leans more toward a traditional SEC-style of play.
2. As many as five quarterbacks are listed as possibilities to replace Austin Davis. Who do you see being the leader of this bunch, and could Nebraska see more than one come Saturday?
Chris Campbell will take every snap on Saturday unless he underperforms or is injured, but the two primary backups to are no slouches. Ricky Lloyd was highly touted out of high school in Concord, California, and last year before coming to Southern Miss, Anthony Alford was named Mr. Mississippi, an award given to the top high school player in the state. Ellis Johnson doesn't want to rotate QBs without a reason, so if you see Lloyd or Alford take the field, something has either gone incredibly right or incredibly wrong for Southern Miss.
3. With four starters returning on the offensive line, should Nebraska worry about the rushing attack even without Jamal Woodyard being available?
Southern Miss has solid depth in its rushing attack. Jamal Woodyard was incredible, and the Golden Eagles will miss him, but Woodyard was still our #3 'back in 2011. Were it not for injuries to our #1 and #2 'backs, Woodyard would have seen substantially less playing time. We have four running backs who will all see action on Saturday, not including Tracey Lampley who will bounce between wide receiver and running back. Our o-line is strong, but more importantly they're quick. I think that Southern Miss will keep the ball on the ground for the majority of plays this Saturday.
4. The Golden Eagles have a pretty solid wideout group. Combine that with a Nebraska secondary that is pretty green, should this make Husker fans sweat a little?
Maybe. We lost two incredible athletes in Kelvin Bolden and Ryan Balentine, but the gaps they left will likely be filled by Francisco Llanos and D.J. Thompson, a true freshman. I worry more about Chris Campbell's jitters in his first game than I do about our receivers. Our receivers will get open, but Campbell needs to hit them in stride because Nebraska's green secondary has plenty of speed.
5. As solid as the returning offense is for Southern Miss, seems like there are a lot of question marks all over the field on Defense. Is this the big worry coming into the ‘12 season?
Southern Miss prides itself on defense; it has for years. Combine that with the fact that Ellis Johnson is one of the top defensive minds in college football, and Southern Miss fans worry a little less. In 2011, Southern Miss returned 8 interceptions for touchdowns, setting a FBS record, breaking a 40-year old mark set by Tennessee (7). Combine that with a solid linebacker group anchored by Jamie Collins (a projected first round NFL draft pick) and I worry less. However, Southern Miss tends to give up big plays on defense. It will only take a couple of big plays by Nebraska's offense to take control in this game.
6. Brett Maher vs. Tracey Lampley. This could be one of the bigger matchup’s this weekend, with the ability that Lampley has shown returning kicks. This fair to say?
Lampley can do it all. Return kickoffs and punts, catch passes as a wideout, line up in the backfield as a running back. Brett Maher should risk punting short and out of bounds before risking a Lampley touchdown. It takes Lampley 3 steps to be at full speed, and he'll probably be the fastest guy on the field for either side Saturday
7. Finally, lets have your prediction on the final score and how the game plays out in Lincoln this weekend.
I think Nebraska takes advantage of Southern Miss's defensive early. With Taylor Martinez's improved throwing motion, look for Nebraska to air it out early with a quick couple of touchdowns, causing Southern Miss to panic a little bit on the road. The running backs and experienced receivers will keep Southern Miss in the game, but it won't be enough. All in all, I think we're most likely looking at a 2012 version of the 2003 Nebraska-Southern Miss game, and Nebraska keeps its opening game winning streak in tact.
Nebraska 40, Southern Miss 20
Thanks Landon! We appreciate your help both with this and the podcast this week!