Southern Miss

Southern Miss defense looks to avoid big plays vs. Marshall

Southern Miss lineman Ja'Boree Poole pressures Troy quarterback Brandon Silvers on Sept. 17 in Hattiesburg.
Southern Miss lineman Ja'Boree Poole pressures Troy quarterback Brandon Silvers on Sept. 17 in Hattiesburg. ttisbell@sunherald.com

There’s more to defense than just hitting somebody hard.

And the Southern Miss Golden Eagles are finding that out.

Although USM ranks first in Conference USA in total defense with 336.3 yards allowed per game, it has occasionally been plagued by opponents’ big plays.

“We’ve just really got to lock in as a team, get everybody in the right spots and be gap-sound on defense,” defensive end Darian Yancey said.

Ah, yes, the gaps. When an offensive player with the football heads for the gaps, the defense must react and fill them. That’s where there have been some problems.

And that’s why the defense got together during the team’s bye week recently to get a better understanding.

“A lot of times when you look individually, you just look at your segment and what pertains to your role,” Southern Miss defensive coordinator Tony Pecoraro said. “When you get everybody together, they get to see, if you jump out of your gap, it affects this player. Then all of a sudden, he does something different and it affects this player. So, just making sure they’re on the same page. It was a good week for that.”

The concept is for all defensive players to be in the right position as the play unfolds in order to stop the play with a minimal gain.

Easy to understand, harder to execute. Thus the meeting.

“It was more of a gap thing, guys not being in the right gap,” said Yancey, a 6-foot-1 redshirt sophomore from Auburn, Alabama. “I admit I wasn’t in my gap all the time. We decided to come together as a team. Instead of watching film, like the D-line watches film in one spot and our DBs might watch film in another spot and our linebackers might watch film upstairs, we just came together as a team, as a defense, and we watched film together so we could all understand.”

Yancey said talking about gap-sound defense included these questions:

▪ Where’s my linebacker?

▪ Where’s my safety coming down?

▪ As a defensive end, do I have the edge or does my corner have the edge?

“That’s what it means to be sound — understanding where everybody has to be,” Yancey said.

The Golden Eagles (4-3 overall, 2-1 C-USA) will play the Marshall Thundering Herd (2-5, 1-2) at 6 p.m. Saturday at M.M. Roberts Stadium in Hattiesburg.

“This is homecoming week,” Yancey said. “That makes it more fun for us.”

But winning won’t be as easy as it might sound. Marshall will come out throwing the football, and Pecoraro said the Herd has four good receivers.

“When you look at them on film, it looks like they put up a lot of points, a lot of yards,” he said. “The side that I see, I see a very talented football team. We’re going to have to come to play Saturday, for sure.”

Yancey said the Eagles will be ready.

“We’re going to play one of the best teams we play all season,” he said. “All we know is to play hard all four quarters. We can’t settle for anything less than that.”

And they need to remember their assignments, and be in the right place. Otherwise, it might be costly. But after the big defensive team meeting, the ramifications of a mistake was made clear.

“If they screw up,” Pecoraro said, “they know who they affected.”

Game plan

Who: Southern Miss vs. Marshall

When: 6 p.m., Saturday

Where: Roberts Stadium, Hattiesburg

TV: WXXV-NBC

Radio: 104.9 FM

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