Sports

Bates, O-line paving the way for Southern Miss

Southern Miss guard Oliver Bates blocks for quarterback Nick Mullens against Marshall on Saturday in Hattiesburg.
Southern Miss guard Oliver Bates blocks for quarterback Nick Mullens against Marshall on Saturday in Hattiesburg. ttisbell@sunherald.com

Southern Miss’ offensive statistics stack up well against the other teams in Conference USA.

The Golden Eagles rank first in C-USA in rushing offense and time of possession and are also among the top four teams in the league in total offense, scoring offense, pass offense, third-down conversions and fourth-down conversions.

Running back Ito Smith is averaging 114.4 yards per game on the ground and quarterback Nick Mullens is averaging 291.9 yards per game through the air.

On top of that, Mullens has passed for 200 yards or more in 33 consecutive games and is the Southern Miss all-time leader in passing yards.

While the backs and receivers garner most of the publicity, a veteran offensive line deserves much credit, too.

“We feel like that’s what we’re supposed to do,” offensive guard Oliver Bates said about the success of the unit. “We had two backs last year over 1,000 yards. That’s the goal we’re trying to reach because we set our standards high.

“As far as protecting for Nick, we set our goals high for him to set records and (for the line) to not give up sacks.”

For the most part, Bates, a 6-foot-3, 295-pounder from Tylertown, and his counterparts have been doing a good job. Sure, there have been a few blips, but when you’re averaging 488.6 yards of offense per game, nobody is complaining much.

“The offensive line has been playing physical the last three or four games,” USM offensive coordinator Shannon Dawson said. “The LSU game was a game we came out and ran the ball pretty well for the first half. I think our guys have a lot of confidence up front. They’re playing well. (Smith) has some good runs where the O-line did a really, really good job.

“They’re meshing well together. I’m proud of those guys. Just the physical part of the game, we’ve been preaching to those guys. From what I see on film, we’re taking that and running with it because it looks like we’re playing physical.”

They should be meshing well together, for they have become household names for Southern Miss fans.

Cameron Tom has started at center for the past four years. Ty Pollard has started every game at right tackle this season. Brandon Farmer (of Harrison Central High School) has started every game but one this season at left guard. Jacob Fleming started the first five games and Will Freeman the last three at left tackle. Devin Farrior started the first six games at right guard, then Bates started the last two at right guard (and the game before that at left guard). Jerry Harris has played a lot on the line and even tight end Julian Allen has started every game this year in which a tight end has been on the field.

In other words, if there is an injury or fatigue to an offensive lineman, there is someone to take his place.

“I play left guard and right guard,” Bates said. “I can give one person a break.

“We have a rotation going. The left tackles Wil Freeman and Jacob Fleming and right tackles are Jerry Harris, Brandon Farmer and Devin Farrior. We all like a rotation to keep everybody fresh throughout the game, so we can all be able to play at our full potential.”

Bates said the offensive line is “smart.”

“We make a lot of adjustments throughout the week, and made a lot of adjustments from last year to this year,” he said. “We haven’t skipped a beat.”

The linemen are delighted when the offense clicks. Or when Mullens sets another record.

“Nick is a great leader, a vocal leader and he leads on the field,” Bates said. “That pushes us to want to play harder for him. We like to see his success as an individual and as a team.”

Mullens complimented the O-line last week after the Marshall game, and Bates listened.

“He said ‘great job,’” Bates said. “I’m pretty sure he’d like to take us out and we’d greatly appreciate that.”

Then Bates laughed.

Big guys can do that.

Game plan

Who: Southern Miss vs. Charlotte

When: 2:30 p.m., Saturday

Where: Roberts Stadium, Hattiesburg

TV: WXXV-Fox

Radio: 104.9 FM

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