Southern Miss offensive coordinator Buster Faulkner developed a package during fall camp to find a way to get senior De’Michael Harris, then a receiver, a couple of carries out of the backfield each game.
When Harris was sidelined with an injury for a large chunk of August, Faulkner scrapped the package for a while and focused on building the ground game around sophomore Trivenskey Mosley and the rest of an unproven running back corps.
When Mosley went down with an injury early in the season opener, USM head coach Jay Hopson and Faulkner decided it would be a good idea to give Harris a test run at running back in the Sept. 7 game at Mississippi State.
“He wasn’t quite full speed so we just decided to put him in the backfield and give him a few carries and see how it goes,” Faulkner said. “After seeing those six carries against Mississippi State, we decided he could really add some explosion.”
Almost six weeks later, Harris is full speed and wreaking havoc on Conference USA defenses.
After accounting for 84 yards of offense and a receiving touchdown against Alabama on Sept. 7, Harris has developed into a C-USA defensive coordinator’s nightmare over the last two weeks.
In USM’s two wins to start C-USA play, Harris has 25 carries for 185 yards and three touchdowns along with seven catches for 158 yards and two touchdowns.
A junior college All-American in the 200-meter dash at Hinds Community College, Harris has shown off track star speed on receiving scores of 74 and 59 yards and a 60-yard touchdown run over the last two games.
“You can make a case for a lot of guys being an MVP for the offense up to this point, but he’s up there from the aspect that he’s just really opened it up,” Faulkner said. “He’s got good numbers, but he’s also helped the other guys. It’s hard to double-team guys. It’s hard cloud coverage certain guys and he’s a big reason why because we can do so many different things with him.”
Harris, who missed the season opener with Alcorn State, has 53 carries for 279 yards and three touchdowns. He has also played a large role in the passing game, catching 14 passes for 227 yards and three scores.
As a junior receiver, he finished with 27 catches for 241 yards and two touchdowns.
Harris, who played running back at St. Aloysius in Vicksburg, has been set up with several crucial down-field blocks to help him break some big plays, but he doesn’t need much space to do damage.
“De’Michael has definitely made my job very easy,” redshirt sophomore tight end Ray Ladner said. “There could have been plenty of plays you could have looked at that I had a flaw or a minus on maybe because I didn’t make the best block possible, and De’Michael just makes the best out of every play that he can. He’s a great athlete. We attribute a lot of our success to him. He sure makes my job a lot easier.”
Harris has added a big-play threat in the ground game that was badly lacking a year ago. As a team, the Golden Eagles are averaging 30.5 points and 444.5 yards — second best in Conference USA.
Faulkner admitted that the impact of Harris as a speedy scatback with receiving skills has convinced him tweak his approach to the ground game, and he would like to find someone to fill his role once he wraps up his eligibility at the end of the season.
“We’re already looking for the next De’Michael Harris,” Faulkner said.
Harris has added a big-play threat in the ground game that was lacking a year ago. The Golden Eagles are averaging 30.5 points and 444.5 yards, which ranks second in Conference USA.
USM (4-2, 2-0) next travels to Louisiana Tech for a 2:30 p.m. game on Saturday.
Honors pile up
USM redshirt junior quarterback Jack Abraham picked up three accolades on Monday, including Conference USA Offensive Player of the Week.
The Oxford native was also named a Manning Award “Star of the Week” along with seven other players and he made the Davey O’Brien Award “Great 8” weekly list.
Abraham completed 29 of 36 passes for 421 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions in a 45-27 victory over North Texas on Saturday in Hattiesburg.
Abraham, who ranks fourth in the nation in passing yardage with 1,936, is completing 71.6 percent of his passes with 12 touchdowns and four interceptions.