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Marshall Opponent Preview - Southern Miss

Garrett Scott, Rakeem Cato and the Thundering Herd play at Southern Miss on Oct. 20.

July 16, 2012

The following is the seventh installment of a 12-part series, previewing each of Marshall's opponents for the upcoming football season.

HUNTINGTON, W.Va. - Marshall will begin the second half of its schedule with a Conference USA game at Southern Mississippi on Oct. 20.

This season's Golden Eagle squad will have a different look, which starts at the top. Ellis Johnson became the head coach in December, replacing Larry Fedora, who accepted the coaching position at North Carolina after leading Southern Miss to a 34-19 record over the last four seasons.

Fedora's teams were primarily known for offense, as his Southern Miss team ranked 17th in the nation in total offense and 14th in scoring offense. His defense in 2011 was 26th in scoring and 29th in total defense.

Johnson comes to Hattiesburg after spending the last four seasons as the defensive coordinator and assistant head coach at South Carolina. Under his direction, the Gamecocks finished in the top 15 nationally in total defense three times.

Johnson not only will have the challenge of upholding the offensive tradition, but also try to continue a trend as the most successful C-USA program in the last two decades. Southern Miss has had 18 consecutive winning seasons (12-2 last year) and 10 straight bowl appearances (USM beat Nevada in the Sheraton Hawaii Bowl, 24-17).

"When I take over this program, I look for something that we've never been able to do before," Johnson said during his introductory press conference. "And frankly, there's very little left. It's intimidating, but it's also challenging. But if I could tell you one thing that's going to drive me ... I want to take the Golden Eagles to a BCS (bowl) game and win it."

Johnson will have a completely new staff to help him and as he runs the defense. Former Louisiana-Lafayette Coach Rickey Bustle was hired as offensive coordinator.

Johnson will have to replace several key players. Five of six Golden Eagles named to the All-Conference USA teams were lost to graduation. Only second team offensive lineman Joe Duhon returns. Johnson will get the opportunity to start his USM career with a quarterback of his choice after Austin Davis wrapped up an outstanding career in 2011. Johnson will have to choose between two quarterbacks, both of which have a year of college under their belts.

Redshirt freshman Ricky Lloyd received the most repetitions at the USM spring game as he completed 14-of-28 passes for 199 yards. Redshirt junior Chris Campbell connected on 12-of-18 passing for 167 yards, including a 26-yard touchdown to Dominique Sullivan. Sullivan joins Tracey Lampley as the top two returning wide receivers.

Offensive Player to Watch
Running back Jamal Woodyard was one of the top rushers in C-USA last season, as a freshman. He ran for 732 yards and three touchdowns. Woodyard and Marshall's Travon Van were named to the C-USA All-Freshman team at running back.

Defensive Player to Watch
Defensive backs Jamie Collins and Jacorius Cotton return as the Golden Eagles' top two tacklers. Collins had 58 solo tackles, 98 total, and one interception. Cotton also had 98 total tackles, including 54 solo and two interceptions.

Three Questions
With a completely new staff, will Southern Miss football remain an upper echelon team in C-USA?

Who will replace all-conference place kicker Danny Hrapmann? Sophomore Corey Acosta is the leading candidate after going a perfect 2-for-2 last season.

Can the yellow flags stay off the field? The Golden Eagles led the conference in penalties (109) and penalty yards per game (63.9) last season.

Quote to Note
"(Fedora) is one of the great offensive coaches in our profession today. And I hope that we can continue the kind of productive offense that he produced. It will not vary much at all. It will be the spread. It will be the fast tempo. I also want to bring exciting defense. I thought the difference between winning a championship here and just entertaining people over the last four years was defense."
- Ellis Johnson, Southern Miss coach

2012 Schedule
Sept. 1 at Nebraska
Sept. 15 vs. East Carolina*
Sept. 22 at Western Kentucky
Sept. 29 vs. Louisville
Oct. 6 vs. Boise State
Oct. 13 at UCF*
Oct. 20 vs. Marshall*
Oct. 27 at Rice*
Nov. 3 vs. UAB*
Nov. 10 at SMU*
Nov. 17 vs. UTEP*
Nov. 24 at Memphis*
* Conference USA