Alabama fans who are out of their teenage years can remember the days when the annual visit from Southern Miss would often present a fair amount of heartburn.
Check the scoreboard in the moment before Tyrone Prothro’s career-defining catch against the Golden Eagles in 2005. Look back to past contests against USM teams led by names such as Reggie Collier and Brett Favre.
These days? It’s a different USM, for sure. Southern Miss comes into Saturday’s game against Alabama with a 1-2 record. The Golden Eagles beat FCS Grambling 37-0 in Week 2. That win was bracketed by losses to South Alabama in the opener and Troy last week. In neither game did Southern Miss score in the double digits.
What USM does bring to the table is a good defense, at least for its level. USM ranks 2nd overall in the country in rushing defense and is 12th in total defense. But its offense does it no favors, and its starting quarterback may miss this game with injury.
Alabama is trying to answer some questions raised in a too-close win over Florida last week in Gainesville. Alabama suffered too many defensive breakdowns for comfort, and Nick Saban continues to question his team’s leadership and consistency. That adds up to what will most likely be an all-out throttling of USM.
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Southern Miss was one of the first opponents Alabama faced back in the day that had committed to a three-wide, one-back offense as its base. It seems like the Golden Eagles have never changed from that in the years since, although USM does carry a fullback on the roster and will occasionally mix in power sets. The problem is this year, it’s not working. USM ranks 123rd in total offense, 88th in rushing offense and 119th in passing offense. Health issues at quarterback have played a role in that, but this is not a talented team overall. Alabama will utilize its own one-back, pro-style spread attack, and needs to improve its own running game (94th overall).
Southern Miss lists six quarterbacks on its roster, but only two on its depth chart, which points to the likely confidence level if nothing else. West Virginia transfer Trey Lowe was supposed to be the solution, but he was injured early in the year, missed last week’s game and will likely miss the Alabama game as well. In his place is a true freshman, Ty Keyes, and after three games the two have almost identical stats: both have thrown for around 220 yards on 53% completion, with 1 touchdown and 2 interceptions each. Both are dual-threat quarterbacks, but their rushing stats have been unimpressive, in part due to high sack totals (USM ranks 128th in sacks allowed). If Lowe remains out and Keyes remains the starter for this game, there is no clear direction on who would be the backup; none of the other quarterbacks on the roster has seen any game action.
Alabama will start Bryce Young, and he’s been one of the few constants on Alabama’s offense so far. Young has completed 68 percent of his passes for 811 yards, 10 touchdowns and no interceptions. Look for backups Paul Tyson and/or Jalen Milroe to also get some time in this game. Advantage: Alabama
In regards to individual numbers, Frank Gore Jr. and his backup, Dajon Richard, have both put up respectable figures. Gore has carried 55 times for 274 yards (5.0 avg.) across the first three games, while Richard has toted it 13 times for 74 yards (5.7 avg.). The issue, if there is one, is productivity around the end zone; Gore and Richard have logged only 1 touchdown each. Quarterback rushing statistics – and in particular, their yardage lost to sacks – has brought the team rushing statistic down significantly, as both Trey Lowe and Ty Keyes are averaging less than 1.0 yard per carry. Chandler Pittman offers depth at tailback but won’t play much with the game on the line. USM runs fullback Cole Cavallo enough that we need to mention it, but only in short yardage.
Alabama counters with Brian Robinson Jr., who quietly put up very respectable numbers against Florida last week and who has 208 yards on 37 carries for the year. Jase McClellan has become a reliable second option, and is a good receiver out of the backfield. Trey Sanders and Roydell Williams will both likely see time in this game. Alabama has used Robbie Ouzts as a situational fullback, but he’s no threat to run. To be blunt, Alabama as a whole has underachieved in the running game this year – Alabama ranks 94th in the stat – but Bama’s competition has been much stiffer and it’s reasonable to assume at this point in the year that results are fluid, and that Alabama has better talent there. Advantage: Alabama
Southern Miss has surprising depth at receiver given the struggles in the passing game overall. Jason Brownlee, Antoine Robinson, Demarcus Jones, Brad Dennis and Jakarius Caston have formed a solid group, and Southern Miss doesn’t seem to target one more than the others, making the Golden Eagles a bit unpredictable. Tight end Grayson Gunter has also been productive, and Cole Cavallo can line up at H as well as fullback. The problem so far has been finding a quarterback that can get this group the ball.
Alabama is continuing to fiddle with its rotation, but John Metchie and Jameson Williams have nailed down their spots. Williams in particular is beginning to look like the team’s next deep threat. JoJo Earle and Slade Bolden continue to compete for the starting slot job, and with Bolden dropping a sure touchdown against Florida, that competition may be tightening. Traeshon Holden, Javon Baker and possibly Agiye Hall add depth, while Cameron Latu and Jahleel Billingsley are the options at tight end. Southern Miss has good athletes, but Alabama has better ones and far better production at the top of the depth chart. Advantage: Alabama
The question is whether Alabama’s advantage is bigger at quarterback, or here at offensive line. USM has put up some of the worst sack prevention stats in the nation (128th), as well as overall tackles for loss (126th). Seven different linemen have already lined up with the first team for USM, with another two getting action. The only lineman to start every game has been freshman left guard Gerquan Scott. The tackles will be selected from Tykeem Doss, Khalique Washington and Briason Mays, while Arvin Fletcher will likely start at center (although Kameron King is also an option) and right guard will be either Coker Wright or Bryce Foxworth.
Alabama figures to start its same lineup as the first three games – center Darrian Dalcourt, guards Emil Ekiyor Jr. and Javion Cohen, and tackles Chris Owens and Evan Neal. There is a chance Alabama could take a look at Kendall Randolph, Damien George Jr. or J.C. Latham at right tackle and move Owens back to center, but there has been no indication this week of an imminent move. Alabama’s offensive line has been on the right side of average so far this year but hasn’t come together yet. Still, it’s light years better than what USM is working through at the moment. Advantage: Alabama
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