Its official ladies and gentlemen, college football season is back! While some schools played early on Thursday or Friday, fans of the University of Kentucky and the University of Southern Mississippi must wait until Saturday to watch their teams play. Southern Miss went into Lexington to start the season last year, and escaped with a 44-35 win. Big Blue Nation will definitely want to avenge last season’s loss. If you’re like me then you’ve read every preview of this game you can get your hands on. So, instead of just writing another one of those, I’m going to lay out what must happen Saturday for Southern Miss to win again. Let’s get started shall we.
Quarterback play: Southern Miss will be breaking in a new quarterback this season as 4-year starter Nick Mullens graduated. Coach Jay Hopson has yet to name a starter Saturday, and has indicated he intends to play both guys that are pushing for the starting spot. If I were a betting man, and let’s face it I am, then my money is on Kwadra Griggs to start under center. I also expect to see Keon Howard play as well. Hopson’s approach is to go with the hot hand. Southern Miss has plenty of skill players to rely on, so whoever it is playing, doesn’t have to do much. For Southern Miss to win, the quarterback must play smart, limit mistakes, and get the ball into the hands of Ito Smith and Allenzae Staggers.
All rise for The Judge: Ito Smith. Man. What a guy. I swear he has Vaseline on his jersey sometimes because hands just slide right off him as he sprints past you and into the end zone. He is the only player in all of FBS with at least 3,000 rushing yards and 1,000 receiving yards. In this game last year, he rushed for over 100 yards. For Southern Miss to win he must have another big game. He is just as dangerous in the passing game as he is in the rushing game. I have read a lot on how Kentucky plans to stop him and the game plan is to blitz all day and force him into blocking plays. That could open some major holes for him to run through. The Southern Miss offense will go as far as Ito “The Judge” Smith takes them Saturday.
Stop Benny Snell: Everything I have read about this guy suggests he’s a human wrecking ball. The Southern Miss defensive line will have the luxury of being bigger this season and they will be put to the test early Saturday. If the Southern Miss “Nasty Bunch” can limit Snell’s success and force Kentucky into more passing plays, then that will be a major win. For this happen the guys upfront have to get him to the ground and not let him brake through the line. Snell is more of a power back and will be hard to bring down, especially if he gets in the secondary and builds speed and momentum.
Don’t give up the big play: The biggest problem with the Southern Miss defense last year was giving up big play after big play after big play. I don’t know how many cuss words I said because of this, but take my word it was a lot. Not my strongest moment but life happens and we move on. And I get it. Sometimes there’s going to be a miscommunication or someone will just make a good play and bust off an 80-yard run. But then when it happens 4-5 times a game something is seriously wrong. Saturday marks a new year and I hope that problem has been resolved. The Southern Miss defense must get Kentucky into 3rd and long situations Saturday and get their offense off the field as much as possible.
Turnovers: Southern Miss had one of the worst turnover margins in the country last year. When your offense is turning the ball over more than your defense is causing turnovers, you typically don’t win many games. Southern Miss must play a clean game on offense Saturday and create chaos for the Kentucky offense. The Southern Miss secondary is a unit led by nearly all upperclassmen who have been playing together for years. I look for them to be a nightmare for quarterbacks this season. Any points that can be scored by the Southern Miss defense off turnovers will be a boost to the offense breaking in a new quarterback. This one is easy. Win the turnover battle against Kentucky and win the game.
I had a baseball coach in high school tell me that Monday was the most important day of the week, because it set the tone for how the rest of the week would go. You could say the same about this game. If Southern Miss wins Saturday, it’s entirely possible to be 3-0 heading into the bye week before conference play starts. Let’s not get too ahead though. It’s a tradition at Southern Miss to sing the fight song in the locker room after every win. I don’t know about you, but I hope I hear some singing Saturday night.