Previewing the Southern Mississippi Golden Eagles

The Tennessee Volunteers will take on the Southern Mississippi Golden Eagles for homecoming on Saturday. Here is everything you need to know about the Golden Eagles.

Saturday Night.....AT THE ROCK!!!

The Tennessee Volunteers (3-5, 0-5 SEC) will host the Southern Mississippi Golden Eagles (5-2, 3-2 C-USA) for their homecoming game on Saturday at 7:30 PM ET. The Golden Eagles lost 30-12 last week to UAB at home. Before their loss last week, the Golden Eagles had a three-game win streak.

Here is everything you need to know about Southern Mississippi ahead of its matchup with Tennessee for its homecoming game on Saturday.

Quarterback

Much like Tennessee, Southern Miss hasn’t figured out what to do at the quarterback position for the majority of the season. Both Keon Howard and Kwadra Griggs have logged snaps this season for the Golden Eagles, and both of them have started multiple games. Howard leads the way by a slight margin in yards, with 1099, while Griggs’ has 1010. The two quarterbacks both have eight touchdowns on the year, and nearly identical quarterback ratings. Howard leads Griggs with a 60-percent completion percentage, but he also has two more interceptions.

Look for Howard to make the start in this game. After a 30-12 beating from UAB last week, neither quarterback looked particularly good. However, Howard had much better numbers, logging 207 yards off 25 attempts and a touchdown through the air. Griggs looked lackluster in mop-up duty with only five completions on 13 attempts and an interception. Howard looked much better in the Golden Eagles win over Louisiana Tech two weeks ago, throwing for 301 yards and three touchdowns.

Running Back

The coaching staff over at Southern Mississippi has got to be commended on the run-to-pass ratio on the season. Averaging 4.6 yards per carry, the Golden Eagles have tallied 305 rushing attempts and 285 passing attempts. Ito Smith leads the way on the ground with 817 yards and seven touchdowns. Smith leads the way by a big margin, with Keon Howard the next closest leading rusher with 152 yards on 44 attempts.

Only three players have converted rushing attempts into points, as Smith leads the way with seven. The others are T’Rod Daniels and Kwadra Griggs have only one rushing touchdown a piece. Southern Mississippi should stick to the ground game this game if they want to attack a Tennessee defense that allows 27.1 points per game, with the majority of that coming on the ground.

Wide Receivers/Tight Ends

Unlike the ground game, the receiving aspect for the Golden Eagles is a little more spread out. Korey Robertson leads the pack with 580 yards and 43 receptions, but after that there is just about a three-way tie. Allenzae Staggers, Ito Smith and Quez Watkins all have 250 or more receiving yards on the season. Robertson leads the way with seven touchdowns, but all three of the guys behind him have two or more touchdowns on the season.

Smith is the do-it-all guy for the Golden Eagles, sort of like Tennessee’s John Kelly. Smith has recorded 325 receiving yards and even an 84-yard touchdown scamper through the air, while recording 800-plus yards on the ground. Jaylond Adams could be the guy to watch on Southern Mississippi’s offense. Adams has six catches for nearly 200 yards on the year, making him one of the most explosive players Tennessee will see this year. The freshman averages nearly 32.8 yards per catch.

Offensive Line

This is a solid offensive line for the Golden Eagles. In seven total games, the group has allowed only 10 total sacks for 72 yards. That is a little over one sack per game. For a Tennessee front that struggles to get to the quarterback, Southern Mississippi sure seems to hold the advantage here — at least on paper. 

This is a well-coached offensive line for what it is worth. The team averages 5.9 yards per play, and have had several 80-yard scores on the year on the ground, always opening up big play opportunity for star running back Ito Smith.

Front Seven

The front seven of the Golden Eagles is aggressive to say the least. Averaging nearly 10 tackles for loss per game, smashing what the Vols have done this far in their eight games. Southern Miss has recorded 62 tackles for loss with a whopping 206 total yardage lost. The team has gotten to the quarterback a little over twice a game, with 17 sacks in seven games and 103 total yardage lost. Xavier Thigpen and Paxton Schrimsher lead the way with 6 tackles for loss each.

Sophomore linebacker Schrimsher has been a wrecking ball to opposing offenses, recording 3.5 sacks along with his 6.5 tackles for loss. He has also recorded a forced fumble, blocked field goal and multiple pass breakups — stuffing the stat sheet in every aspect. Senior defensive lineman Xavier Thigpen will be hungry against a Tennessee offensive line that struggled against Kentucky and allowed seven sacks.

Secondary

Tarvarius Moore and Cornell Armstrong lead the way for the Golden Eagles secondary. Moore and Armstrong have both recorded two interceptions on the year, both averaging over 25 yards per return. The Golden Eagles have recorded six interceptions in seven games thus far, which is twice what Tennessee has managed so far this season in a game less.

Moore, the senior, has four pass break-ups on the season. It is never a good sign when your starting cornerback leads the team in tackles, but Moore has four games with seven or more tackles. Armstrong is the least tested of the two, and has only recorded one game with four or more tackles. He has also recorded seven pass deflections thus far. Overall, take this Golden Eagle secondary with a grain of salt.

Special Teams

Jaylond Adams rarely returns kicks for the Golden Eagles, but this is a game where they could shake it up to pull an upset in Neyland Stadium. Adams averages 21 yards per kickoff returns on the year, which is second on the team. Adams has only recorded four, but I expect him to be lined up deep this game.

As far as punt returns, the Golden Eagles don’t force many three-and-outs, which is a good sign for Tennessee. They have forced 10 such sequences in seven games so far, so Tennessee should be able to move the ball. Allenzae Staggers leads the way with 10 returns and 50 yards for a measly five-yard average.

Featured image courtesy of Creative Commons 

Edited by Seth Raborn