This week’s game at Marshall is the final one of the regular season, so Southern Miss football coach Jay Hopson on Monday took time to reflect on how the year has gone.
The Golden Eagles are 7-4 overall and 5-2 in Conference USA and will finish among the top three teams in the league’s West Division.
“We're ahead of where I thought, but at the end of the day, it was an unknown to me at the beginning,” Hopson said. “A lot of times as coaches, you're cautiously optimistic. I'm pleased with the way a lot of freshmen and young guys and how they've stepped up.”
The Golden Eagles knew running back Ito Smith, receiver Allenzae Staggers and cornerbacks Cornell Armstrong and Curtis Mikell were standouts, but the jury was out on others.
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But a number of players who had little action before this year came on strong as the season progressed, and Hopson expressed satisfaction at that.
“You think about (linebacker) Racheem Boothe, he's had an outstanding year. You think about (receivers) Quez Watkins, Tim Jones, Jaylond Adams, (offensive linemen) Arvin Fletcher and Drake Dorbeck. You have a lot of younger guys whose first game was against Kentucky. It was (quarterback Kwadra Griggs’) first game at Kentucky, so there's a lot of guys who are walking onto the field for the first time and responded great.
“Now you're not young anymore, they have 11 games under their belts. I'm proud of this football team. They've fought until the clock has hit zero every week. They'll do that every week.”
Another player who had seen only limited action before this season is nickel back Kelsey Douglas, who intercepted two passes and returned them both for touchdowns in the Eagles’ 66-21 victory over Charlotte last Saturday. He was named the C-USA Defensive Player of the Week on Monday.
“I was extremely happy with the first, I was real happy with the second,” USM defensive coordinator Tony Pecoraro said. “I’m proud of Kelsey. What a way to go out. Senior Night, your last ever game at The Rock, that’s a day that you’ll never forget. He ain’t never going to want to forget that one.”
On Douglas’s second pick six, redshirt freshman defensive end Jacques Turner from d’Iberville hit Charlotte quarterback Hasaan Klugh as he threw the ball.
Pecoraro said that Turner had made a lot of improvement this season and could be a star of the future.
“Jacques Turner on the defensive line has had a fantastic year,” Pecoraro said. “He’s a guy that as you watch every week, you go, ‘We need to play him more.’ Every week he’s starting to play more. Especially for being a redshirt freshman, I think he’s really come on.”
Southern Miss defensive tackle Draper Riley was penalized in the Rice game on Nov. 11 for a personal foul and was ejected from the game. That ejection called for Riley to be held out of the next half of play, but USM appealed to Conference USA and the suspension was overturned.
“Friday, (C-USA) sent us an email that said he could play,” Pecoraro said. “It was huge. It was huge for him, too. He played awesome. I don’t know if the stat sheet tells you that, but I know that film tells you that. He played a really good football game.”
Players of the Week
Ito Smith, who ran 15 times for 153 yards and three touchdowns against Charlotte, was named the Golden Eagle Offensive Player of the Week. Smith now has 48 career touchdowns, a new school record previously owned by Damion Fletcher, who had 46.
Douglas, with his two interceptions returned for 52 and 48 yards and two touchdowns, was named the Defensive Player of the Week.
Collin Mills, the deep snapper, was named the Special Teams Player of the Week.
Southern Miss plays its final regular-season game at Marshall (7-4, 4-3 C-USA) at 1:30 p.m. (CT) Saturday.
The game will be web streamed by Stadium.
Who: Southern Miss vs. Marshall
When: 1:30 p.m., Saturday
Where: Huntington, W.Va.
Radio: WBUV 104.9-FM