Offense to make major improvement

The University of Southern Mississippi hired offensive specialist Todd Monken as head football coach in an attempt to change the culture of a Golden Eagles’ offense that settled at the bottom of Conference USA in many categories. Out of 12 teams, the Eagles were 10th in total yards per game, 11th in yards passing per game and last in points scored per game.

Monken would like to sport a high-tempo offense, one similar to the Oklahoma State Cowboys’ scheme that garnered so much success as one of college football’s most electric offenses. The Cowboys’ offense had the ability to strike from anywhere on the field and put points on the scoreboard in bunches. The first-year coach is in need of a versatile quarterback to make this possible.

Anthony Alford and Arsenio Favor, the top two passers from last year’s offense, transferred and left a three-man battle between spring starter Cole Weeks and California transfer Allan Bridgford. The duel hasn’t produced a clear favorite and Monken said that a starter will not be named before the season opener against Texas State Aug. 31.

“The sample size is going to be small,” Monken said when asked to describe the quarterback situation. “There’s no guarantee you’re going to make the right decision. Go with what you think, shrink the percentage of error and go with it.”

Monken may have to rely on last year’s offensive backbone early in the season: the running game. In 2012, the Eagles ranked fifth in yards rushing per game and total yards rushing for the season in C-USA. The former OSU coordinator is no stranger to the running game; under his leadership, the OSU squad of 2012 accumulated 215.3 yards per game.

Three of the 2012 season’s top six rushers will not return. However, Monken will inherit the talents of Jalen Richard, Kendrick Hardy, Jeremy Hester and Tyre Bracken. If Monken’s Cowboys offense of the past is any indication of what the future holds for Southern Miss’ running game, the unit will likely feature a one-two punch rather than a running back by committee.

The running backs will follow a young, unproven offensive line that will return only one full-time starter. Senior guard Ed Preston and senior tackle Vincent Brown will play alongside the new faces of junior guard Frederick Moore and sophomore tackle Rashod Hill.

Like the vacant starting quarterback spot on the depth chart, the fifth offensive lineman slot remains a mystery. The starting center spot is up for grabs between sophomores Jordan Greene and Garrett Clark.

Last year’s offensive line yielded a dismal 30 sacks, two-thirds coming in conference play. Offensive line coach Pete Perot will likely have his hands full melding the group together to help protect the revamped offensive scheme. Senior fullback Bruce Johnson will help lighten the load for the offensive line as he has proven to be a reliable lead blocker over the years.

Like the offensive line, the receivers are a raw unit. As a result of injuries in camp, many freshman receivers were gifted with extra reps in practice.

The corps will be led by last year’s leading receiver Domonique Sullivan. The 6 feet 3 inches tall wideout caught 19 passes for 331 yards and three touchdowns.

“Golden Eagles are back,” Sullivan said at the media event. “I’m most looking forward to getting this tradition back.”

Joining him will be seniors Justin Sims and Francisco Llanos along with junior Markese Triplett. With receivers playing a large role in the new offense, a breakout season is possible for one or two of the younger talents.

The offense will be challenged early in the season. Three of the first four games will feature No. 18 Nebraska, unranked Arkansas and No. 19 Boise State, ranking 58th, 83rd and 8th in fewest points allowed in the country respectively. While those rankings may not suggest stout defenses, each of these teams are elite programs with loads of talent.

The stage is set for the Golden Eagles offense to have a massive rebound from last year. Although inexperienced, the offensive unit is talented. With the correct coaching from the staff and determination from the team, Southern Miss could be a force in C-USA once again.

Whenever it happens, that first offensive touchdown will be an incredible moment for Hattiesburg’s faithful at The Rock as the old page will turn to reveal a new story for Southern Miss football.

“They didn’t forget how to win,” Monken said about his team. “They’re eager to turn the page.”