Chris Boone summed up Jarrett Stidham’s experience against the Southern Miss defense in his best Mississippi drawl.
“We made that ole Auburn quarterback run around a lot,” the USM defensive line coach said after Tuesday’s practice.
The Auburn junior never had a chance to get comfortable in the pocket against the Golden Eagles, constantly scrambling to find enough time to locate his receivers downfield.
The man most often seen chasing Stidham was USM redshirt sophomore defensive end Jacques Turner, a D’Iberville product who is quickly emerging as a star on a Golden Eagle defense that’s shown improvement in recent weeks.
The Golden Eagles (2-2) came up short late in a 24-13 loss at Auburn last week, but the defense held the No. 8 Tigers to 341 yards of total offense and just 96 on the ground.
The Southern Miss defense came up with three sacks of Stidham and two of those belonged to Turner, who has turned in some of his best performances so far against SEC competition. In games against Kentucky, Tennessee and Auburn over the last two years, Turner has 3 1/2 sacks and 4 1/2 tackles for negative yardage.
When asked Tuesday if he gets a little more revved up for games against SEC teams, Turner smiled and shrugged his shoulders.
“I guess so,” Turner said. “It seems like it, but I don’t look at it that way. I just play hard against everybody.”
Saturday’s performance by the defense reinforced the belief in Boone that his group can hang with some of the more talented offenses in the nation.
“When you look at clips and go through the ball game, there’s no difference between them and us,” Boone said. “That’s what we thrive on. I tell kids all the game. We go anywhere and play anyone, anytime. Our mentality is it ain’t about who we line up across from. It’s about us.”
Turner had a promising redshirt freshman season, registering 20 tackles and four sacks as a player who worked both at defensive end and on the interior. He has 12 tackles, two sacks and 4 ½ tackles for negative yardage through four games this year.
Turner packed on more weight in the offseason and checks in at about 6-foot-1, 270 pounds, allowing him to add more power to his pass rush. As he’s continued to pack on the pounds, he has preserved a quick first step that has always made him a natural at getting after the quarterback.
“I fake with speed and come with power, but I just react to what the offensive line is doing,” Turner said.
Another attribute that makes Turner a headache for opposing quarterbacks is his long wingspan. He appeared to just miss out on his first sack of the day at Auburn as he worked his way around Stidham, but Turner was able to reach back and pull the quarterback to the ground with him.
“I just beat him with speed,” Turner said of his move around the offensive tackle. “I used a little chop/rip move off the edge and got the sack.”
His last sack provided USM with an opportunity to rally late when he got to Stidham in a hurry and forced the ball loose by hitting the quarterback’s hand with his helmet as he was trying to throw the ball. Paxton Schrimsher recovered the fumble, giving USM the ball near midfield with 5:40 remaining while trailing 21-13.
“Every time I get a sack, I try to get the ball out,” Turner said. “It just happened to work like that. I was trying to get my hand on the ball, but I guess my head got there faster.”
The USM rally came to a halt when quarterback Jack Abraham was intercepted three plays later, but Turner and the rest of the defense proved that it was up to the task against a Top 10 squad.
While Turner is starting to fulfill the potential a long list of colleges saw in him out of D’Iberville High School, Boone believes there’s plenty more for him to prove.
“He’s doing some good stuff,” Boone said. “He’s come out every day and he’s starting to work. It’s starting to click a little bit for him. He has by no means arrived and he knows that. He’s starting to flash and do good things, but his best football is in front of him.”
USM is in a bye week before traveling to North Texas for a 1 p.m. kickoff on Oct. 13.