When Southern Miss signed four players off the Coast in the class of 2017, it was a fair assumption that one or two would sit and watch with a redshirt this season.
In a bit of a surprise, all four of those players have taken the field through the first two games of the year.
Offensive tackle Paul Gainer, a freshman from Gautier, and D’Iberville’s Tyler Barnes, a freshman defensive back, both saw playing time in the 24-17 loss to Kentucky to open the season. Barnes was involved on special teams while Gainer played the majority of the game at left tackle when starter Drake Dorbeck went down with an injury.
On Saturday in a 45-0 win over Southern, Long Beach native Trevor Terry, a first-year sophomore from Jones County Junior College, and Biloxi’s Tim Jones both saw time at receiver in the second half. Neither player caught a pass, but it’s clear now that they are likely to be called upon in the weeks ahead.
The USM staff has come to the conclusion that it’s important for the younger players to see playing time to build depth for the long run.
“We’ve been moving Tim around a good bit, playing inside and outside receiver,” USM offensive coordinator Shannon Dawson said. “We have young guys like him and a couple of other guys that we’re bringing on fairly slow.
“Tim is going to play a lot of football. We’re getting those guys ready. The good thing is the more he can play, the fresher we’ll be toward the end. Last year, if you look at our receiving corps we got beat up throughout the course of the year. At the end of the year, we were beat up and depleted. This year, we want to play more of those guys that are talented.”
The D’Iberville connection
Barnes saw significant time at nickel back Saturday and made a strong first impression, making five tackles to tie for the team lead in the game. His four solo tackles led the team.
At 5-foot-10, 190 pounds, Barnes packs a punch at defensive back.
“He’s a very, very physical freshman,” USM defensive coordinator Tony Pecoraro said. “He’s going to be a big-time player. It’s good to see him get reps. He made a couple of mistakes as any freshman would, but you saw a lot of flashes. You saw him play physical at the point of attack. You saw him running, track a couple of guys down. We’re definitely very pleased.”
Redshirt freshman Jacques Turner, a former teammate of Barnes at D’Iberville, has also made a significant impact at defensive end through two games, leading the team with 1.5 sacks.
The 6-foot-1, 260-pound Turner made a big tackle for lost yardage against Kentucky and also tipped a pass against Southern that was intercepted by former Pearl River Community College standout Tarvarius Moore.
“He’s been big for us,” Pecoraro said. “He’s probably one of our better pass rushers. In long yardage situations he’s been playing a lot. He’s playing a lot of normal down reps as well. He’s big, fast, physical. He’s smart and he’s going to be a big time player for us when it’s all over with.”
PRCC and MGCCC products
Moore and former Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College standout T’Rod Daniels are among the junior college products out of South Mississippi who have played prominent roles so far at USM.
Moore, who played high school ball at Quitman, leads the team in tackles with 11 and has one interception.
On Saturday, Moore showed the ability to wrap up ball carriers with ease.
“He’s actually gotten so much better at that,” Pecoraro said. “That started in the spring. He did a great job tackling in the open field and it’s carrying over. He’s done a really good job for us so far.”
Daniels, a Bassfield native, flashed his breakaway speed on a 49-yard touchdown Saturday and led the team with 10 carries for 83 yards and a score.
Daniels is working in with senior starter Ito Smith at running back while redshirt junior Tez Parks works his way back from an unspecified injury.
“I just know when I do get the ball I’ve got to make it count,” Daniels said Saturday. “There are a lot of people that come to see me. Everybody is telling me I want to see you break that thing tonight.”
With a 40-yard dash at 4.3 seconds, expected to see more big plays out of Daniels.
Who: Southern Miss vs. La.-Monroe
When: 6 p.m., Saturday
Where: Monroe, La.
Radio: 104.9 FM