LEXINGTON Ky. — We’ve had all the coverage from UK leading up to Saturday’s season opener, so here’s a change of pace to see where Southern Miss is as we inch closer to the matchup.
Jason Munz covers the Golden Eagles for the Hattiesburg American and he answered a few key questions for SEC Country about the game. You can follow Jason on Twitter @munzly. Let’s get to it.
Q: Kentucky doesn’t bring the same intimidation factor other SEC schools might, and Southern Miss seems to have a lot of confidence heading into Saturday. What are their expectations?
Jason: “I think that’s pretty accurate. I don’t know if it’s necessarily the fact that Kentucky doesn’t, that it’s Kentucky’s fault Southern Miss has the confidence that they do seem to have. I think it’s probably more of a product that a bunch of the key playmakers and starters and things like that on this Southern Miss team are three and four year starters. This team went through a very lean period from 2012-14 where you had guys like Nick Mullens, who’s the senior quarterback who started five or six games as a freshman, and Dylan Bradley who’s one of the better defensive linemen. He’s a senior and he’s been starting since he was a freshman. To that end, these guys have been through the wringer I guess you could say. They’ve played at Arkansas, they’ve played at Alabama, they’ve played at Mississippi State and played Mississippi State last year at home. Took Nebraska to the wire last year on the road. So again, I don’t think it’s necessarily that Kentucky is not intimidating, it’s just that this Southern Miss team, most of the key players have kind of, you know, they’ve been some places and seen some things. It could be anybody, it doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s Kentucky that’s causing that. It’s just that they’ve been through the fires.”
Q: Nick Mullens against the Kentucky secondary is going to be fun to watch. How do you see that matchup playing out?
Jason: “I think it’s going to be a really good one. Obviously Nick is who he is — 4,500-yard passer last season with 38 touchdowns and something like eight or 10 or 12 interceptions, something like that, a fairly low number. He brings with him a lot of experience and confidence and talent. Again, like you mentioned the secondary for Kentucky, everything I’ve read, everything I’ve heard, everything I’ve seen about that group is that it’s probably the strength of the whole team, offense or defense or special teams. It’s going to be fun to see how they both stack up against each other. I think it’s going to tell a lot about both sides. It’s going to tell a lot about Nick and a lot about that Kentucky secondary. I know the corners for Kentucky are going to be the tallest and most athletic Southern Miss will see all season, with the possible exception of LSU. I think it’s going to be one of those deals where Southern Miss will try to exploit the short to intermediate passing game early and do their best to wear out the front seven and put more pressure on the secondary early in the game.”
Q: What are some Southern Miss weaknesses UK might try to exploit?
Jason: “As far as Kentucky’s offense, I think they’re going to go right at Southern Miss’ front four. Dylan Bradley is a very skilled defensive linemen but he’s small, and he’s one of the bigger defensive linemen that Southern Miss has. I think he’s roughly 6-1 to 6-2, 270. That doesn’t necessarily bode well for Southern Miss. They’re just a little undersized up front especially when you consider they’re facing an SEC offensive line whose smallest guy is 6-3 to 6-4, 300 pounds. That’s the smallest guy. There’s going to be a size disadvantage in the trenches at least when Kentucky’s on offense.”
Q: How do you see the game playing out?
Jason: “That’s one thing I’ve been asked about pretty consistently over the course of the last couple weeks and the more I think about it I just think between Southern Miss’ veteran explosive style offense and Kentucky’s issues on defense, especially in the front seven, I think it’s going to be a neck-and-neck deal for probably three and a half quarters or so. I do think it’s going to be close. But again, I think Southern Miss’ efficiency on offense and experience and maturity will win out in the end against the front seven of Kentucky’s defense.”
Follow Joe on Twitter @joe_mussatto. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org