HATTIESBURG - With all the talk about quarterback Nick Mullens and a potent Southern Miss offense, it was the defense that set the tone in Saturday's spring game at Roberts Stadium.
The Gold squad, which mostly featured Mullens behind center, topped the Black 10-7 before an estimated crowd of 4,500.
Jay Hopson, a former USM defensive coordinator, replaced Todd Monken as head coach after he left to become the offensive coordinator for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in late January.
If Saturday's scrimmage is any indication, the Eagles may be see an uptick on the defensive side of the ball in 2016.
"I thought defensively we tackled pretty well," Hopson said Saturday. "That's the probably the thing that showed up the most. Up front, we did a pretty good job on the defensive line."
The defensive line should be a strength for the Golden Eagles. Thanks to good numbers along the line, the new staff has had the luxury of moving around players to various spots.
Defensive tackle Wil Freeman was moved to offensive tackle and former defensive end Dylan Bradley has been moved inside to defensive tackle. Darian Yancey, who played defensive end last season, will also see time at linebacker.
Bradley totaled four tackles on Saturday.
"I think Dylan has a little of an advantage because he's an athlete, big guy," Hopson said. "Dylan becomes a very athletic three technique. That kind of helps him."
Senior defensive end end Ja'Boree Poole, who had six tackles, believes the switch of Bradley to defensive tackle shouldn't change much.
"Coming in as a freshman, Dylan played D-tackle," Poole said. "A couple of years passed and he played defensive end. Dylan can really play anything on the D-line."
Junior quarterback Kwadra Griggs hit redshirt freshman Reid Rials on a 56-yard touchdown pass for the Black squad for the lone touchdown of the first half with 10:57 left in the first quarter.
Gulfport product Stephen Brauchle kicked a 25-yard field goal to cut the Black lead to 7-3 at halftime.
Johna Myers, a running back from Petal and East Central CC, provided the decisive score in the second half with a 30-yard touchdown run for the Gold.
Mullens mostly worked behind an offensive line comprised of backups and finished 6-of-10 passing for 35 yards. He was sacked three times.
Griggs, an Itawamba CC transfer, completed his first four passes of the game and finished 13-of-27 for 133 yards, a touchdown and one interception.
Griggs has the advantage on redshirt junior Parker Adamson to be the backup for Mullens entering the summer.
"Kwadra has really done some good things, had a good spring," Hopson said. "I've been very impressed with Kwadra. He and Parker have still got a fun little battle going. I think Kwadra probably edged up slightly to the two, but it's still a battle. We're going to keep it going. I'm looking forward to getting (Laurel quarterback Keon Howard) in here and letting him go this summer."
The offensive star for USM on Saturday was redshirt freshman Patrick Brooks, who had 13 rushes for 79 yards. He had three carries for 52 yards during his first drive of the game.
Tez Parks is working his way back from a knee injury last year and George Payne's knee wasn't quite healthy enough to play in Saturday's scrimmage.
That puts the pressure on Brooks to deliver in 2016 and he appears ready to do so after a nice showing Saturday.
"He can do just about everything. He can run it, catch it out of the backfield. He's a blocker, a physical kid. He has the tools. It's good to have that behind Ito. We're looking forward to Tez coming into the mix too. Competition is always great because that makes everybody better."
USM will open the season on Sept. 3 when it travels to Kentucky.