Buster Faulkner feels like he’s found a good fit at Southern Miss and fans are hoping that translates into a more productive offense in 2019.
The former Arkansas State and Middle Tennessee offensive coordinator has been charged with taking over for the Golden Eagles on that side of the ball after Shannon Dawson left after three seasons to join the staff at Houston in January.
Faulkner, a native of Lilburn, Georgia, is a 37-year-old former star quarterback at two different Div. II programs, Valdosta State and Texas A&M-Commerce. He got his start in coaching at Valdosta State in 2007 as quarterbacks coach and was the team’s offensive coordinator by the next season. He has since had stops as an offensive coordinator at Murray State (2010), Middle Tennessee (2012-15) and Arkansas State (2016-18).
At USM, Faulkner will serve as the primary play-caller for the first time since his stint at Middle Tennessee. Arkansas State head coach Blake Anderson made the calls the last three seasons while Faulkner was on the staff.
Under Southern Miss head coach Jay Hopson, Faulkner believes he has found an ideal situation.
“For me, there was personally an instant connection,” Faulkner said. “Just to realize the kind of person he was, that goes a long way with me and my family. That’s what matters first and foremost.
“I’ve had the chance to get here and spend time with him. His insight is really helpful because he’s able to give me information on what defenses are trying to do. That’s something that’s really new to me. That’s only going to help us offensively, help us grow as coaches.”
Faulkner will be working with Scotty Walden, who has had the title of co-offensive coordinator added to his receivers coaching duties, and new offensive line coach Ryan Stanchek to make sure USM takes a significant step forward in 2019 after the Eagles struggled badly with the ground game in 2018.
“No. 1 is we’ve got to establish a mentality that that’s important,” Faulkner said of running the ball. “If we’re going to win football games, we’ve got to be able to run the ball. We’re going to throw it, but we’ve got to establish that mentality. It starts with the coaches and carries over to us implementing the offense. We’ve got to develop a mentality of toughness with the kids. No. 2, we’ve got to have an identity and a foundation of what you’re going to be. We’ve got to give the kids a chance to play with confidence and with the pace and tempo. We’ve got to be able to play fast. When the ball is snapped, we’ve got to know where to go and how to get there.”
Faulkner has not worked alongside any of the current staff members previously, but he’s encouraged by what he’s seen from his new co-workers since his hiring was first reported on Feb. 18.
“Scotty Walden has got a bright future,” he said. “He’s got a lot of energy and knowledge. He’s a go-getter. I’m excited to have the opportunity to work with him. Ryan Stanchek had a great deal of success as an offensive coordinator (at Alcorn State). His offensive lines were great and they always rated high in the country, putting up big statistics.”
Faulkner’s last season at Middle Tennessee in 2015 coincided with Brent Stockstill being elevated to the team’s starting quarterback. He completed 66.7 percent of his passes for 3,993 yards, and 30 touchdowns that season, on his way to a 12,483-yard career.
Faulkner described MTSU head coach Rick Stockstill, Brent’s father, as having played a major role in his development as a coach.
“I learned so much from Rick Stockstill,” Faulkner said. “I can’t even tell you how much I learned from him, how much he helped me with my career and still does. He’s a guy I lean on for a lot of advice, still talk to.”
During Faulkner’s last year at MTSU, the Blue Raiders had three players top 100 yards rushing in a game. USM had one player do it twice last year, freshman Trivenskey Mosley.
The 2018 Arkansas State team ran 461 times for 2,178 yards for an average of 4.7 yards a carry.
The 2018 USM squad ran 399 times for 1,239 yards for an average of 3.1 yards a rush.
While Faulkner has plenty of work ahead to reconstruct a new rushing attack for 2019, he does have the benefit of returning 10 offensive starters from the 2018 squad that finished 6-5. That includes rising junior quarterback Jack Abraham, who led the nation in completion percentage at 73.1 percent while throwing for 2,347 yards, 15 touchdowns and 10 interceptions in nine games.
Even with so much experience returning, Faulkner is anxious to see players compete for playing time beginning with the start of spring practice on March 19.
“I told them, ‘It doesn’t matter what you’ve done in the past,’” Faulkner said. “The bottom line is it’s a new team, a new season. Everything is starting from scratch. If you want to play, prove it. We’ll play the best guys that give us a chance to win.
“We want to be one of the best offenses in the country. We’ve got some freshmen and new signees and everybody is going to have to earn it.”
Faulkner said that he hasn’t analyzed Dawson’s scheme enough to explain the differences between his version of the spread offense and the previous one, but he does want to make sure it’s not too pass or run heavy.
“The biggest thing is to be balanced,” he said. “We’ll stay ahead of the chains. We’ve got to protect the football, do a great job of that. We’re going to play at a good pace and control the tempo. We’re not going to be fast all the time, but we have to control tempo. We want to have a great balance and have an identity. Our guys will play hard, fast and physical.”
Faulkner doesn’t expect too many hurdles as he installs his system during the spring.
“I think the language will be smooth,” he said. “We’ll only have 15 practices so we’ve got to be smart about how much we throw at them. We want them to come out of spring and have confidence in something.”