Abraham back at QB for Golden Eagles

By ALAN HINTON,

Jack Abraham will be the Southern Miss quarterback in the Golden Eagles’ first game of the 2019 football season Saturday night, but he won’t be throwing to All-Conference USA wide receiver Quez Watkins.

Abraham won the starting nod over Tate Whatley for Saturday’s 6 p.m. game against Alcorn State, but Watkins will not play against the Braves this weekend or against Mississippi State on Sept. 7.

All fourth-year head coach Jay Hopson would say about Watkins, who led the team in 2018 in catches (72), receiving yards (889) and touchdowns (9), was that he is “being held out through the first two games.”

That doesn’t mean it’s time for the Golden Eagles to throw in the towel. They are deep in talent. For instance, Abraham led the nation in completion percentage (73.1 percent) last season, completing 223 of 305 passes.

“It's been a fun battle to watch and we definitely have fans for both quarterbacks,” Hopson said. “Jack had a good year last year and Tate (Whatley) did too, when he came in. It's not like Jack ever did anything to lose the job, but we felt like through spring that Tate had a really good spring and he deserved an opportunity. We leave camp feeling like we have two really good quarterbacks that are ready to go.

“Jack's the starting quarterback, but we understand we have a really good football player in Tate. We've got a plan for Tate.”

Abraham said Tate has made him better.

“We had a long competition. I’m thankful to him for pushing me,” Abraham said.

The wide receiver corps is deep, with Jordan Mitchell, Jaylond Adams and Tim Jones listed on the first-team depth chart coming out of fall camp, and the offensive line is experienced.

Buster Faulkner is the new offensive coordinator. He calls his offense “multiple spread.”

“You’re going to see us in various formations,” he said. “We want to do a great job of trying to get our playmakers the ball in space and let them do what their skill set allows them to do,” he said.

Defensively, All-Conference USA preseason selections are defensive back Ky’el Hemby, defensive linemen Demarrio Smith and Jacques Turner and linebacker Racheem Boothe, so that unit has a chance to be strong, too.

“I’ve seen the defense grow up,” Southern Miss defensive coordinator Tim Billings said. “We’ve got a lot of returning starters. I’m seeing the fans get excited again about the Nasty Bunch.”

It will take a good Golden Eagle effort to beat Alcorn State, a Division I FCS team that Hopson coached to a 32-17 record and two SWAC championships before he became head coach at Southern Miss.

The Braves, who have played for the last five SWAC championships due to winning the East Division, have been predicted to finish first in the SWAC’s East Division again this season.

They are led by veteran quarterback Noah Johnson and have nine players who were named to the All-SWAC preseason first team, including running back De’Shawn Waller and three offensive linemen. Last year, Johnson threw for 2,207 yards and 15 touchdowns, and rushed for 1,080 yards and 11 touchdowns. Waller rushed for 1,125 yards and 12 touchdowns.

Fred McNair, who coached under Hopson four years, has been the head coach three seasons, going 20-15 overall and 15-7 in the SWAC, and winning the East Division all three seasons.

“We're looking forward to a great football game and we know we have a football team coming to town that has our utmost respect,” Hopson said.

So, the countdown is about over and it’s almost time to play, to start another season. Hopson said first games are always interesting, and rarely go like you think they will.

“First games are first games, so all the hype, the jitters, everybody comes out from both sides,” he said. “The thing I do like about this football team is that we’re an older team. So usually, and knock on wood, older teams handle that better than younger teams; they’ve been there before. Hopefully some age and experience will help us there and the guys will understand that we need to get ready to play ball.”