The 2019 Southern Miss regular season is just around the corner. Expectations are high, despite the Golden Eagles finishing the 2018 season with a 6-5 record. Saturday, Southern Miss hosted a scrimmage along with media day where coaches and players gathered together to speak with media members.
Head coach Jay Hopson spent several minutes talking about the day as a whole and his two quarterbacks who each tried to make the most of the scrimmage.
"It was a typical first scrimmage. I thought, what I did like is that it was a back-and-forth scrimmage. Early on I thought the defense was taking control, then in the second half of the scrimmage, the offense came up big. If I was to evaluate the whole scrimmage, I liked it as a head coach because there was good competition. I thought it was a 50/50 battle and that is something I liked," said Hopson. “Tate Whatley has made some plays when the lights come on. I was pretty vocal about that in the spring. We are going to allow everyone to win the job. Jack [Abraham] played pretty good today, too. Tate is battling, so we are just going to let them keep competing.”
Whatley finished the day 17-26 for 219 yards with three touchdowns. Abraham was 19-36 for 239 yards and a lone touchdown.
Two other players to watch on the offensive side of the ball is returning wide receiver Quez Watkins, who hauled in 72 catches for 889 yards and nine touchdowns last season. His future at Southern Miss was in doubt due to academic reasons, but he has since enrolled and is active on the roster. The other is a standout junior wide receiver, Tim Jones. Last season, Jones started 11 games and caught 42 passes for 508 yards. Jones also grabbed one touchdown last season.
The junior wide receiver had a solid day in the scrimmage, catching two touchdowns on the afternoon. He totaled three receptions for 65 yards.
Hopson was vocal about the impact Jones made on the field.
“Tim had a great day today. He had a great touchdown today. I think he is a next-level talent. He’s doing great right now. He’s gotten a little bigger, a little stronger. Tim can do anything. I felt like that early. That’s why we signed him because we felt that he could be a next-level receiver. He has made big plays since he has gotten here. Today you saw make a big play. We have a great receiving corp. ”
Defensively, Southern Miss had glimpses of the famed, "Nasty Bunch" group from years prior and held teams below 300 yards per game on average during the 2018 season. Senior defensive end transfer Terry Whittington has shown glimpses of making a major impact all spring and that has appeared during the fall. Hopson was vocal about him and another newcomer graduate transfer Torrence Brown’s impact.
“Torrence Brown and Terry Whittington are two guys that flashed today in the scrimmage. I thought those guys had good days. Those are two guys who I think you are seeing that might be making a push.”
Wayne County native redshirt junior Ty'Ree Evans who had a fumble recovery in the scrimmage is a player who is fighting for one of the starting outside linebacker positions. Evans spent time at East Mississippi in 2017 where the Lions captured the NJCAA National Championship. After a season that saw him play in multiple games, he knows this season is crucial for his future.
“Spring ball was great and the off-season has been great. They started putting some weight on me, so I can play stronger and faster. I took a redshirt year and I know the system more. I’m able to make a big impact play like I did today.”
Evans did admit it was a learning curve moving from JUCO football to Conference USA football.
“It is a faster game. I needed the experience though, going JUCO, learning the outside and what is expected. It is faster. You’re playing with big-time players that have the same expectations you have. They all want to go to the NFL. The competition is much higher. Being a Wayne County guy though, that is what we looked for, ways to be greater. I’m blessed to be in this position.”
A name many know in the Pine Belt area, Akeem Davis, was recently promoted from a graduate assistant to cornerbacks coach this season. Davis is excited to get to work with an experienced group of coaches.
"We have an experienced group of guys, along with a group of seasoned coaches. Coach Hopson is an old defensive backs coach himself. He doesn’t mind pulling me to the side and letting me know what I need to tell them, what I need to do, and how to do it. Coach [Tim] Billings is a seasoned coach. He’s been coaching 41 years, and he has coached everything from wide receivers to defensive back, defensive line, to even tight ends. Coach Derek Nicholson is a great coach and I’m just glad to be under that tree, that allows me to help make sure we are in good shape."
Speaking about the scrimmage, Davis thought that his defensive backs could have played better, but also believed that they made the most of certain opportunities.
"I thought we were okay. I thought we did some really good things, but some things that weren't so pleasing. I just know we have to keep getting better. We missed some opportunities out there, but we cashed in some out there too, so it wasn't bad. I thought overall it was an even day."
The Golden Eagles will begin their routine practices and shake out their depth chart starting Monday morning and are scheduled for another scrimmage next Saturday at 6 pm.