Liberty returns home for one game against Southern Miss before its first open week of the altered 2020 season. That means a familiar staple returns with the weekly Q&A with an opposing beat writer to help preview the Flames’ matchup. Patrick Magee of The Sun Herald based in Biloxi, Mississippi, stops by to answer five questions about Southern Miss. For his coverage of the Golden Eagles, follow him on Twitter: @Patrick_Magee.
Now onto the Q&A:
N&A: This has certainly been a strange start to Southern Miss' season from dealing with COVID-related issues since the summer, facing the uncertainty of the paths of several hurricanes from the Gulf Coast, and Jay Hopson's abrupt resignation after the season opener. How has this program handled all of the adversity?
PM: We all know it would be an unusual season, but Southern Miss has had a stranger campaign than most. Rock bottom was the 66-24 loss to rival Tulane in the third game of the season. The Golden Eagles rebounded 41-31 against North Texas, but the Mean Green were dealing with their own COVID-19 issues at the time. Scotty Walden has steadied the ship in terms of energy and morale, but it remains to be seen if the team can hang with good competition the rest of the way.
N&A: How would you assess the job interim coach Scotty Walden has done through three games?
PM: As a 30-year-old with boundless energy and an upbeat attitude, he has been an ideal interim coach for the situation. The 66-24 loss to Tulane caused concern that the team might have already given up, but the rebound win at North Texas gives the team some hope moving forward. Walden and the staff are putting in the work. How the team responds to Walden the rest of the way will determine if he is a serious candidate to be the permanent coach.
N&A: Liberty coach Hugh Freeze spoke glowingly of Southern Miss quarterback Jack Abraham and his command of the offense. What makes Abraham, a preseason all-conference selection, so good?
PM: Abraham has always been one of the more pinpoint quarterbacks out there. He led the nation in completion percentage as a redshirt sophomore at 73.1. An inconsistent offensive line has contributed to a drop in that figure, but he's still a solid QB that's capable of putting up huge numbers on any given Saturday. Abraham has had three different offensive coordinators during his time at USM, but he's made the adjustment each season.
N&A: Take away Tulane's 430 rushing yards and Southern Miss' run defense has actually been relatively strong this season. What has been a key to that success, and who are players who have done a good job of helping to slow down rushing offenses?
PM: I think that's likely more of a result of opponents believing they have a better chance of taking advantage of a secondary that got off to a slow start. The defensive front has struggled the last two games against the run, but they can get better if they get multiple linebackers back who have missed time recently, including Santrell Latham.
N&A: What are your keys for Southern Miss against Liberty?
PM: 1. Score lots of points — The best way for USM to pick up some wins down the stretch is to find its stride in all phases of the offense. If Abraham plays well and senior receiver Tim Jones gets back in the fold, USM can put produce on offense.
2. Get guys health — There were 20-plus players out last week after all COVID-19 tests were complete. It remains to be seen how many players will be missing on Saturday.
3. Run the ball consistently — Freshman Frank Gore Jr. provided cause reason for hope after rushing for 130 yards and a TD against North Texas.
4. Shadow the QB — If the USM defense can keep Malik Willis from getting rolling on the ground, the Golden Eagles will have a shot on the road.
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