Southern Miss took a good beating against South Alabama to open the football season for the second year in a row.
As the long night drew on, Southern Miss fans voiced their opinions on the various social media platforms. Fans quickly jumped on Southern Miss coach Will Hall and used quarterback Trey Lowe as the scapegoat for Saturday’s disappointment.
As the saying goes, Rome was not built in a day. In the history of Southern Miss football, that’s precisely the case.
Legendary coach Jeff Bower was 4-7 in his first season and held a 14-18-1 record by his third year before the Golden Eagles made the jump as a powerhouse. Todd Monken is another excellent case, as he took over after the chaos of Ellis Johnson. Monken went 1-11 his first season and was 4-20 in his second year before he helped the Golden Eagles get back to the C-USA championship.
By comparison, Jay Hopson was 15-11 in his first two seasons, and his tenure didn’t exactly end great.
Were fans wrong to be critical? No. But was the meltdown a bit much? Yes.
Let’s look at the positives and negatives and what coaches and players said after the game.
For you glass half empty folks, let’s start with the glaring negatives of the night.
The offense was simply bad, and it was a surprise for myself and the other members of the media on Saturday.
Quarterback Trey Lowe had ups and downs on the night, but not all of the blame can be placed on him. Yes, he was missing passes and had happy feet early in the night, but he did settle in and got better as the game went on. The wide receivers dropped at least six catches that could have been difference-makers in drives. That was especially the case early in the game. Hall has said that running backs missed blocks, and Lowe’s pick-six at the end of the game was not his fault since the running back failed to turn around and catch the ball on his route.
Ball security was obviously terrible as the Golden Eagles fumbled four times and gave up four turnovers by the end of the night. Hall took full responsibility for that, as he should as not just the head coach, but as the offensive play-caller. For me, the glaring issue was the offensive line. Pass blocking was not very good like it had been in fall camp. The run game was also very stagnant. Frank Gore Jr. had some solid runs, but it seemed there was a lack of variety of playcalling in the run game.
As Hall and players pointed out, the positive with the offense was that South Alabama never really stopped Southern Miss. As Hall also said, all of the missed opportunities in the loss were by the Golden Eagles’ own doing. South Alabama never stopped USM in the red zone or from driving downfield, which is why I think the offense will be drastically improved the next time they face a real opponent, which - no knock to Grambling - will be against Troy.
Now let’s look at the defense. Heading into the game, I was deeply concerned for the defense. In the team’s two fall camp scrimmages, they never looked great and gave up big plays. Not to mention, there had been many questions about the defensive line. Personally, I worried about the secondary and whether the linebackers had enough depth due to injuries.
Yes, the defense gave up big plays, but they gave them up to South Alabama’s star player Jalen Tolbert, who some consider a second-round pick in the NFL Draft.
There was only one drive in which the defense was straight-up beaten, which was the first one in the second half.
By the end of the night, if you take out Camron Harrell’s kickoff fumble and Trey Lowe’s pick-six, the Golden Eagles gave up just 17 points.
Fans were critical of tackling, but according to defensive coordinator Austin Armstrong at Tuesday’s press conference, USM missed 10 tackles in 57 plays. That’s not bad by any means. Let’s also point out that it was the first game of the season.
USM’s defense held South Alabama to under 40 rushing yards and recorded three sacks by the end of the night. And if you take out Tolbert’s five catches for 168 yards, quarterback Jake Bentley would have thrown for just 101 yards.
My point is that Southern Miss’ defense did its job on Saturday.
This loss feels different compared to a Hopson-era loss. Coaches and players faced the media after the game and simply owned their loss with maturity from both ends.
Hall’s energy to the program is different from the last five years, as players have regularly pointed out.
This season is by no means lost. The only thing that matters is winning conference games. I’m a firm believer that coaches should get three years before being put on the hot seat, so to quote Hall, things are a working process. Sof you can’t give up on the guy after just one game.