The Southern Miss football team is stacked with 16 starters returning from last year’s squad, but there are some positions and players that carry a little more weight in deciding how far the Golden Eagles can go in 2019.
An injury at a key position or a weak spot on defense could prevent USM from contending for a Conference USA West title like most expect.
In this piece, I take a look at which players are most important to USM’s success this season.
It would be easy to pick returning starting quarterback Jack Abraham, but it appears USM can still win games with sophomore Tate Whatley behind center. There’s also no denying that redshirt junior Quez Watkins is one of USM’s top players following an All-Conference USA campaign in 2018, but there’s plenty of depth at receiver and several players who could step into the go-to role this year.
Here they are, the five most important players for Southern Miss in 2019:
5. Redshirt junior linebacker/defensive end Jacques Turner — After earning All-Conference USA honors last season as a defensive end, the D’Iberville native makes the switch to the wolf position, which is a linebacker/defensive end hybrid role. Turner admits that he has some weight to shed during fall camp, but that shouldn’t be much of a problem. The 6-foot-1 Turner started fall camp north of 260 pounds and hopes to be 250 before the Aug. 31 opener against Alcorn State. While there’s little concern that Turner will adjust to his new position, he says the 2015 Mississippi-Alabama All-Star Game is his only real experience at linebacker. The addition of a couple of transfers gives USM depth at the wolf position, but it’s crucial that Turner take hold of this spot and put together another all-conference season.
4. Redshirt sophomore linebacker Santrell Latham — Following a strong spring, it appears that the Meridian product has the best chance to take over at middle linebacker. After working undersized linebackers like Jeremy Sangster and Sherrod Ruff at the position last year, Latham fits the mold better at 6-foot-2, 225 pounds. He should do a better job of covering ground in the middle of the defense, but the 2019 season will mark the first time he has received consistent playing time. He’ll be pushed by redshirt freshman Hayes Maples and redshirt junior Ty’Ree Evans, but the USM defense will probably be at its best with the talented Latham in the middle. He has plenty of athleticism and nobody plays with more of a chip on his shoulder.
3. Sophomore center Trace Clopton — For a USM offensive line that generated little push in the ground game in 2018, Clopton is a key part of a group that faces pressure to improve dramatically. After missing the spring with an injury, Clopton is back for year No. 2 as a starter after being thrown to the wolves as a true freshman. Unless the USM decides to do some shuffling, freshman Louis Smith may be the backup at center for the Golden Eagles this season. It’s easy to see Clopton taking a big leap as a sophomore and USM cannot afford to have him missing significant time.
2. Sophomore running back Trivenskey Mosley — After more experienced backs failed to produce last season, USM turned to Mosley as the No. 1 option in the ground game. His average of five yards a carry was the best on the team and he showed he catch the ball out of the backfield with 24 receptions. Of the USM backs available for 2019, no player better provides all the attributes necessary to be the go-to running back.
1. Redshirt senior left tackle Drake Dorbeck — When Dorbeck was moved from left to right tackle to start the 2018 season, I thought it was a mistake. That turned out to be the case as USM went through several different starting lineups through the first half of the season and struggled with consistency along the line all year. Dorbeck, who also missed the spring with an injury, appears to be in good shape as returns to his old left tackle spot. The quarterbacks didn’t have much time to throw the ball last season and it will be up to Dorbeck to protect that blind side. That’s why he is USM’s most important player for 2019. If Dorbeck puts together his best season as a Golden Eagle, USM will be in the conference title hunt.