Frank Gore, Jr. breaking free.
Parrish Alford previews the 2023 football season for the USM Golden Eagles, taking a look at strengths, weaknesses & schedule.
Sun Belt Conference coaches picked Southern Miss to finish fourth in the West division behind Troy, South Alabama and Louisiana-Lafayette.
Bet on the Golden Eagles to exceed those expectations not because they have the league’s best running back in Frank Gore Jr., but because they have Will Hall.
Hall’s in his third season as coach. He’s been successful at every level. While his debut season in Hattiesburg came with significant challenge, including injuries that kept him from fielding a competitive audience, Hall showed he can adjust and make lemonade out of lemons.
Southern Miss won its last two games by snapping the ball directly to Gore and letting him shine. They were against struggling Louisiana Tech and Florida International, but the Golden Eagles, themselves struggling, learned to win.
Gore was better in 2022. His 103.6 rushing yards per game were second in the conference, and his 6.06 yards per carry led the league.
A salty defense – dare we say nasty? — helped keep Southern Miss competitive most nights amid its offensive struggles.
The defense allowed 23.5 points a game last year while the Eagles lost three times by a touchdown, twice by three points or less.
The defense returns six starters and retains some continuity with a new coordinator since Dan O’Brien was on the staff last year coaching defensive backs.
The quarterback position remained uncertain throughout most of 2022. A continued rise for Southern Miss will depend on Hall’s evaluation of two transfer quarterbacks he invited to be part of the program and his ability to “coach ’em up.”
Billy Wiles, who spent two years at Clemson, has been announced as starter. He was a three-star prospect out of Ashburn, Virginia, but only a walkon at Clemson. Still, props to Wiles who showed enough to Dabo Swinney to earn a scholarship before entering the portal.
Wiles is a pro style quarterback. At 6-foot-3, he can see the field. An improving offensive line returns three starters. That will help.
A realistic expectation is for Wiles to make good reads and good decisions, to get the ball to Southern Miss playmakers not named Gore. If he can do that Gore can become even more explosive when defenses have someone else to cover.
Quarterback may be a Wiles Card, but Hall has a knack for getting players to respond.
2023 Golden Eagles Schedule
- Sept. 2 Alcorn State
- Sept. 9 at Florida State
- Sept. 16 Tulane
- Sept. 23 at Arkansas State
- Sept. 30 Texas State
- Oct. 7 Old Dominion
- Oct. 17 at South Alabama
- Oct. 28 at Appalachian State
- Nov. 4 ULM
- Nov. 9 at Louisiana-Lafayette
- Nov. 18 at Mississippi State
- Nov. 25 Troy