The Southern Miss football team is getting back arguably its most important defensive player just in time for its biggest Conference USA game of the season.
Redshirt junior linebacker Racheem Boothe is set to return for Saturday’s 6 p.m. home game against North Texas after leaving in the first half of the 47-42 victory at Troy on Sept. 14. He sat out a pair of games — a loss to Alabama and a victory over UTEP.
“He’s kind of the heart soul of our defense, he and (Demarrio Smith),” USM defensive coordinator Tim Billings said. “He lines everybody up and makes all the checks. He’s our quarterback. He’s our stabilizing force. Getting him back this week will be huge for us.”
Boothe has 10 tackles, a forced fumble and a team-leading three quarterback hurries for USM, which is 3-2 overall and 1-0 in Conference USA.
The addition of Boothe is a lift for a USM defense that’s likely facing its stiffest test in C-USA play. The Mean Green aren’t off to the strong start that they had hoped for at 2-3 and 1-0, but they are still loaded with talent at the skill positions with senior quarterback Mason Fine again leading the way.
Boothe and company will look to end a three-game losing streak to the Mean Green.
“He’s been in that position a long time,” USM redshirt junior defensive end Jacques Turner said. “He pretty much knows every position on the field.”
Sophomore running back Trivenskey Mosley’s status is uncertain for Saturday’s game, but the return of freshman guard Coker Wright seems likely after he returned to practice during the bye week.
“(The bye week) definitely helps,” USM head coach Jay Hopson said. “We are hoping that we will have some guys ready.”
USM redshirt senior offensive tackle Drake Dorbeck admits that last season was a frustrating one for him and the entire offensive line, but there has been noticeable improvement along the line this season.
Quarterback Jack Abraham has faced much less pressure and the ground game has proven solid against competition other than SEC opponents Alabama and Mississippi State.
Dorbeck has been arguably USM’s steadiest presence on the offensive line and that improved play can be credited to a strong summer spent in the weight room.
In January, he began to put in the work to make sure his senior year wasn’t a disappointment.
“I didn’t have the season I wanted to last year,” Dorbeck said. “One of the factors was my weight. I got a little heavy throughout the season last year. That was my main goal coming back. I wasn’t able to practice in the spring. It was just losing that weight and getting back to a good playing weight where I can play fast. The weight that I have, (I want to) have good weight. I think it’s helped me. My endurance has gone up and definitely my playing speed. I see it on film. I’m just playing a lot faster than I was last year.”
The 6-foot-6 Dorbeck said that after playing last year at 325 pounds, he has dropped his weight to 310.
“He’s had a good season. He’s one of our leaders,” USM offensive coordinator Buster Faulkner said. “He’s playing extremely physical right now. I think he’s playing with a lot of confidence. It’s been fun to watch him since we got here. He has changed his body. He’s so much stronger from the weight room. He has become a leader. He has become a little bit more vocal. You can tell he’s having fun and that’s what it’s all about.”
Abraham’s run choice
Abraham has only run 25 times for 16 yards this season, but those numbers aren’t indicative of how productive he has been when he has chosen to take off with the ball.
The Oxford native has run for a pair of touchdowns and several key first downs to keep the offense moving.
“I think that’s a huge part of being a quarterback,” Faulkner said. “Is he’s a runner? No, he’s not a runner. But when I look for a quarterback, I look for a guy that can extend the play. He’s done a great job of extending the play. I don’t know the exact numbers, but he’s probably got 7-10 rushes on third down that have become first downs for us. That’s crucial. The other day (against UTEP), it’s a 2-yard gain, but it’s a first down. I look for a quarterback that can get you 2-3 first downs or touchdowns a game running the ball. That doesn’t mean he’s going to rush for 50 yards, but if he’s able to extend drives, that’s big. I think he’s done a great job of that.”