Southern Miss football held its first scrimmage of the fall on Tuesday.
It was by no means the greatest day of fall camp for the Golden Eagles, with the scrimmage itself featuring highs and lows. The scrimmage featured a regular rotation between the first string, second string and third string teams on each drive.
It was easy to see that the defense shined more while the offense left more to be desired, which was essentially the same view that USM coach Will Hall shared.
“We had a lot of offensive skill players that were out,” Hall said. “Our defense came out and set the tone early. We had several stops in a row. Our offense bounced back and scored on three of the next four possessions. It was a good give and take there. I thought overall, the defense had the better part of the day, which is good to see because the last two days, I think the offense has had the better part of the day. As a head coach, I want to see the give and take. I think the defense did pretty well at the start and at the end.”
The Golden Eagles were without several players, particularly on the offensive side of the ball. Top returning wide receiver Jason Brownlee missed the day as he was seen with crutches and a wrap around his knee, but Hall was adamant that he would return in a few days.
USM was also missing wide receiver Demarcus Jones. Starting center Briason Mays experienced what appeared to be a minor injury during the scrimmage, and even though he was held out for the rest of the day, he was seen walking around on the sidelines afterward.
In addition, Southern Miss was without safety Jay Jones and linebacker Santrell Latham.
GAME CHANGING GORE
Without Brownlee and later losing Mays, the offense was slightly impaired, but running back Frank Gore Jr. provided an almost immediate impact on the first team offense.
The first two drives with the first team offense resulted in punts, and both drives were killed due to a sack or flags.
Gore didn’t take snaps until the first team’s third drive. On his first touch, he broke out a 17-yard run. Gore, whose only carries came from that drive, helped set up quarterback Ty Keyes’ lone touchdown pass of the day to Jakarius Caston from seven yards out. In seven carries, Gore ran for 51 yards, with three of his carries resulting in first downs.
“Frank has had a great camp,” Hall said. “He has done a really great job with his body this offseason. He has a chance to be a special player.
“We have talent in (the running back) room. They have really worked hard. We have some good things to work with there.”
CROWDED RUNNING BACK ROOM
Besides Gore, seven different running backs received snaps. Mississippi State transfer Janari Dean received the most with the first team as he ran for 29 yards on nine carries.
The most memorable play from the run game came from true freshman Kenyon Clay, who ripped a 30-yard touchdown run in the second team reps.
Hall was hesitant to answer on how the starting running back rotation would look but was quick to say Gore would be the starting running back, and Antavious Willis, who had one run for five yards, would start as the Superback.
“Right now, (Willis) would start at the Superback spot, and Frank would start at the running back spot, and we would go from there,” Hall said. “They are all going to play and start in the kicking game.
“It’s hard for me to answer what the rotations would be with this much time left.”
MEDIOCRE QUARTERBACK PLAY
The best play from the quarterback group, as well as the most memorable play of the day, came from Jake Lange during the third-team reps. On his lone pass attempt, Lange connected with Hattiesburg High product Jack Jackson for a 69-yard touchdown. Jackson, who is a preferred walk-on, had three catches for 96 yards.
“We didn’t get a whole lot going with 1s and 2s except with the run game,” Hall said. “We didn’t make a whole lot of plays at quarterback today. It was probably our worst day quarterbacking-wise as a group. We have had several great days. We didn’t help them either with a drop or two that could have been big. We popped some runs that, (but) got some penalties.”
Backup quarterbacks Trey Lowe and Zach Wilke split reps for the second team, with Wilke also taking snaps with the third team. Lowe finished 3-for-5 with 35 yards, while Wilke was 5-for-8 with 78 yards.
Keyes finished the day 4-for-8 with 51 yards and a touchdown while rushing for 19 yards on six carries.
“I think (Keyes) is where we thought he would be,” said Hall regarding Keyes’ development. “I don’t think he is any better or any worse. He puts all the time in and is extremely talented, but what you have to remember is that with Ty, 50% of our offense, we don’t get to run out here because he is in a red jersey. You have about 12 to 20 quarterback runs a game, and all the scrambles are taken out of it.
“A big part of his game is not shown until he goes live.”
The Southern Miss defense made numerous big plays on the day, with the group recording five sacks.
However, three of those sacks came against the first-team offense.
Junior linebacker Averie Habas recorded two sacks on Keyes, while sophomore defensive Brodarius Lewis sacked the team’s starting quarterback as well. In addition, linebacker Tyrese Hopkins sacked Lowe twice.
Overall, the offense’s day was filled with mistakes.
Penalties erased potentially big runs, and a pair of dropped passes killed drives as well. Bad snaps were also an issue, with snaps being bobbled that led to fumbles that were luckily recovered or that resulted in immediate incompletions to avoid a sack – although this was partly due to Mays missing half the day.
Despite all those issues, as well as being without some key playmakers, the Golden Eagle offense did not turn the ball over, which Hall felt was a significant positive of the day.
“That’s what matters,” Hall said. “If you don’t do that, then you are going to win. That’s what we have talked about. That’s a huge positive today. We didn’t make as many plays as we had been making or want to play. There are a lot of reasons for that. If we don’t turn the football over then, we are going to be in it until the very end. We are going to find a way to run it. Our quarterbacks can run, which they can’t do.”