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UTSA and Southern Miss aim to get on track in conference play

Both teams will attempt to bounce back from disappointing losses against divisional opponents last week.

NCAA Football: Southern Mississippi at North Texas Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

Date: Saturday, October 20, 2018

Kickoff Time: 6 p.m. CT

Location: Hattiesburg, MS

Stadium: M.M. Roberts Stadium

Streaming: ESPN+

Audio: Southern Miss Sports or Ticket 760

Stats: Sidearm Sports

Series Record: 2-2

Last Meeting: Southern Miss won last year’s meeting 31-29.

Betting Line: Southern Miss -17.5

Over/Under: 44 points


Southern Miss Outlook

It’s Week 8 of the college football season and we still don’t really know who this Southern Miss team is. After Hurricane Florence wiped away the Golden Eagles’ best matchup in their out of conference schedule (a road trip to Boone to face Appalachian State), we’re left with a team that’s turned in conflicting performances.

Southern Miss has scorched some bad teams, hung tough against an SEC opponent and posted terrible showings against Louisiana-Monroe and North Texas. The results seem to indicate an average, inconsistent team, and the S&P+ index agrees, ranking the Golden Eagles at No. 78 in the country.

While USM might have to wait another year to reclaim its glory atop Conference USA, it does have some talent on the roster this year that makes it an extremely dangerous team.

Sophomore wide receiver Quez Watkins has 461 yards and 7 touchdowns to his name this year, making him a big reason why the Southern Miss offense garners high grades in explosiveness. Watkins is elusive in the open field and has a long stride at 6’2”, making it hard for shorter defensive backs to match him step-for-step.

Watkins depends on a fellow sophomore, quarterback Jack Abraham, to get him the ball in open space. Abraham has certainly succeeded in that regards, as he boasts a 70.5% completion rate to complement his 12-6 TD:INT ratio. Abraham tends to hold on to the ball too long and is a little turnover happy but USM has to be excited to have the JUCO transfer under center moving forward, especially after the pre-season drama that saw USM’s backup quarterback transfer before its starter was suspended from team activities.

Whereas the Golden Eagles have been quite successful through the air, their running game has marred the offense’s performance as a whole. Senior Tez Parks hasn’t found much success this year, as he’s racked up just 127 yards on 47 carries. That’s 2.7 yards a pop, which obviously isn’t going to cut it.

Parks has been spelled by two freshmen running backs who are beginning to etch their names into this program. Trivenskey Mosley has picked up 189 yards on the ground, while Steven Anderson is the only Golden Eagle that’s managed to find the end zone on the ground this season.

Defensively, Southern Miss is stout and deep. Sixteen players have come down with five or more tackles this season, as the Golden Eagles aren’t dependent on any one player to keep offenses behind the sticks.

Sophomore linebacker Racheem Boothe has impressed me with his speed and pursuit, while sophomore defensive end Jacques Turner is emerging as one of the best defensive linemen in the conference.

Southern Miss hasn’t created a ton of “havoc” plays this season (just 5 sacks and 5 INTs) but they play a sound brand of football that forces offenses to get creative to find open zones and rushing lanes.

UTSA Outlook

Dating back to last year’s loss to FIU, UTSA’s offense is averaging 14.8 points per game over its last eight contests. Even after a wholesale replacement of players and coaches, the results remain consistently bad for this stunted offensive unit.

NCAA Football: Baylor at Texas-San Antonio
UTSA players celebrate a touchdown against Baylor.
Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports

After failing to find the end zone against Louisiana Tech last week, UTSA head coach Frank Wilson pulled his last card out of the deck by placing true freshman quarterback Jojo Weeks into the game.

A standout on the baseball diamond who was a late bloomer as a high school gunslinger, Weeks led his Wimberly program on a miracle playoff run his senior season. Weeks’ astronomical stats drew the eyes of UTSA coaches, who convinced him to drop his commitment to Texas State for baseball in order to continue his football career.

Weeks finished his senior season with an astonishing 4,396 yards and 52 touchdowns through the air. At 6’4”, 220 pounds, Weeks has the strong arm of a baseball player and the tough frame to match. The freshman looked sharp in his three snaps against Louisiana Tech and rumors are swirling around the program that Weeks will be seeing his first career start against Southern Miss.

If Frank Wilson does opt to roll the dice with Weeks it could change the shape of the offense. Wilson has already commented on his desire to simplify the offense this week but it will be interesting to see how that simplification aligns with Weeks’ strengths as a quarterback. Dating back to fall camp, Weeks impressed with his ability to throw the deep ball — a facet that has been completely absent in UTSA’s offense so far this year.

Whether Weeks flourishes or not, he brings a much-needed change to the offense.

UTSA’s defense will certainly welcome a change from the other side of the ball. The Roadrunner defense has played quite well when you account for how much time it has had to spend on the field.

Cornerbacks Clayton Johnson and Cassius Grady have emerged as a strong starting duo for the Roadrunners, stabilizing what was the team’s most suspect unit on defense to start the season. Sophomore defensive linemen DeQuarius Henry and Lorenzo Dantzler have emerged as consistent contributors, making UTSA’s tough defensive line even stronger. Safety CJ Levine and linebacker Les Mauro have also taken big steps forward, giving the Roadrunners a very well-rounded, talented defense that just needs a little help from their counterparts on the offensive side of the ball.

Prediction

Assuming freshman Jojo Weeks does get the start for UTSA, it will be very interesting to watch these two extremely young offenses compete. I think both units will be limited in points scored but will take some improvement into the locker room to build on. Both defenses should play solid football but it seems likely that Weeks will fall victim to some freshman mistakes in his first full game at the collegiate level. The Golden Eagles’ defense is well-equipped to take full advantage

USM 24 UTSA 13