The second to last scrimmage of spring practice for the Southern Miss football team had it all — dominant defense, a late surge by the offense and a handful of intense scuffles.
In the end, all you need to know is that head coach Jay Hopson grinned as he walked off the field.
“I thought we had a physical day, good intensity, good physicality,” Hopson said. “I definitely saw Southern Miss football out there today. That is something I’m always going to be happy with when I leave the football field. I thought in the first scrimmage maybe the offense had a little bit of an upper hand. I thought today maybe the defense had a little bit of an upper hand. It’s been one of those springs where you go back and forth, so as a head coach you kind of like that.”
USM has five practices remaining in the spring and will hold its spring game at 11:30 a.m. on April 13 Roberts Stadium.
There were three clear takeaways from Saturday’s scrimmage:
▪ Jack Abraham will continue to be the man at quarterback. The redshirt junior made strong throws well down the field and showed off pin point accuracy on short tosses.
USM is without redshirt junior receiver Quez Watkins as he works to gain academic eligibility for the 2019 campaign, but Abraham has a strong chemistry with the three receivers who are working with the first team. Long Beach native Trevor Terry, a senior, and redshirt senior Jordan Mitchell are working on the outside while junior Tim Jones, a Biloxi native, continues to show progress in the slot.
The longest pass of the day was Abraham’s 77-yarder to Jones, who came up just shy of the goal line on a play late in the scrimmage.
▪ The defense appears ready to take it up another notch after an impressive 2018 campaign. They repeatedly darted into the backfield for tackles for lost yardage and the secondary came up with multiple interceptions.
▪ USM appears to have found more depth at running back with the addition of former Northwest Mississippi Community College running back Kevin Perkins.
Perkins signed with Troy in February of 2018, but things didn’t work out with the Trojans and he was no longer with the team six months later.
He returned to Northwest for the 2018 campaign and played in eight games, running 59 times for 194 yards and eight touchdowns. As a freshman with the Rangers, he ran 163 times for 915 yards and 12 touchdowns.
After picking up Troy and Kentucky offers after his freshman year at Northwest, there were fewer opportunities waiting on him after his sophomore campaign.
“He just walked on (at USM),” Hopson said. “Kevin is a kid that’s going to be an outstanding football player. He’s a guy we watched at Northwest a couple of years ago. We thought he had big upside and he wanted to walk on so we’re happy to have him.”
Perkins will add some size to the depth chart for USM at 6-foot, 230 pounds.
Freshman on the rise
Hopson was high on Brookhaven product Coker Wright when USM signed him in December and he appears to be backing up that praise during his first semester in Hattiesburg.
Wright played mostly defensive line in high school, but it was clear his future was on the offensive side of the ball on the college level. In Saturday’s scrimmage, the 6-foot-4, 275-pound Wright was with the first team at left guard.
“He’s a really, really good football player,” Hopson said. “Coker kind of edged into that starting spot. Of course there is still competition, nothing is settled right now. Kind of like (center Trace Clopton) a year ago, it’s saying something when you’re a freshman coming out of high school and making that move. He’s a very, very athletic guy and he’s been very intense.”
The rest of the first-string offensive line on Saturday was: Left tackle — Arvin Fletcher, center — Grey Best, right guard — Bryce Foxworth and right tackle — Khalique Washington.
A pair of 2018 starters, Clopton, a center, and redshirt senior left tackle Drake Dorbeck, continue to be held out of practice with injuries.
Redshirt junior defensive end Jacques Turner pointed out a pair of young defenders who are having strong springs in redshirt sophomore linebacker Santrell Lathan and redshirt junior linebacker Ty’Ree Evans.
“When he gets the opportunity to be out there, he flies around the field,” Turner said of Evans. “That’s a guy that’s got a motor that you ain’t never seen before. He never stops running. I’m excited to see him.”
Redshirt junior linebacker Racheem Boothe was in agreement with Turner’s assessment that Latham is “going to be a big deal for us.”
“He was straight balling out there for us today,” Boothe said.
Hopson was asked Saturday about his reaction to Friday’s news that Troy’s Jeremy McClain has been hired to take over as the new USM athletic director.
“Fired up,” Hopson answered. “We kind of did the Alcorn game together a few years ago so it’s great. I know he’s a Southern Miss guy through and through. It’s great to have a Golden Eagle back in the nest.”
McClain was not in the USM athletic department when Hopson was hired in January of 2016, but he was on hand when Hopson brought his Alcorn State team to USM on Sept. 6, 2014. Southern Miss held on for a 26-20 win over the Braves.