Auburn football: Tigers can’t afford to look past Southern Miss

Jack Abraham #15 of the Southern Miss Golden (Photo by Mark Brown/Getty Images)
Jack Abraham #15 of the Southern Miss Golden (Photo by Mark Brown/Getty Images) /
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Southern Miss ranked second in the conference with 39 sacks last season and ranked fourth in tackles for loss with 87. However, much of that production came from the linebackers

RS senior defensive end Jacques Turner is entering his final season and looks to cap off an incredibly successful career at USM. The 6-foot-1, 247-pound pass-rusher was named to the conference’s All-Freshman team in 2017, the All-Conference First Team in 2018 and after recording 46 tackles, 13 TFLs and six sacks, Turner was named to the All-Conference Honorable Mention in 2019.

Alongside Turner, the Golden Eagles are largely unproven. On the other hand, Auburn will be starting almost an entirely new offensive line in 2020 and their lack of experience could work in Southern Miss’ favor.

Starting DTs  Demarrio Smith and Delmond Landry have both graduated and so Von’Darius Freeman and Tahj Sykes are both players to keep an eye on but are both lacking experience and production.

Terry Whittington, who led the team with 7.5 sacks last year graduated but that doesn’t mean the Golden Eagles are hopeless at linebacker. Rising RS junior Santrell Lantham experienced a big breakout 2019 season as he recorded 55 tackles and 7.5 TFLs after playing primarily special teams the year prior.

Big things are expected from fourth-year linebacker Racheem Boothe after he tallied 48 tackles and three sacks and JUCO transfer Swayze Bozeman plays like a linebacker/safety hybrid and enjoyed a productive 2019 season.

The Golden Eagles were just an average defense last season and while the group of linebackers isn’t the team’s best position group, they are one of their most underrated groups.

The linebacker group helped Southern Miss put up the best rush defense in the C-USA so look for Malzahn and his staff to focus on the passing game.

Ky’el Hemby #19 of the Southern Miss Golden Eagles (Photo by Tim Warner/Getty Images)
Ky’el Hemby #19 of the Southern Miss Golden Eagles (Photo by Tim Warner/Getty Images) /

Statistically, Southern Miss had one of the worst pass defenses in the conference last year and their 27 passing touchdowns allowed was the worst mark in the C-USA. At the same time, the defensive backs on the team were able to put up solid production and even have a few preseason All-Conference selections.

RS Senior Ky’El Hemby is probably the best of the bunch. The 6-foot-1, 195-pound defensive back earned Second Team All-Conference honors in 2018 and recorded a team-high 93 tackles along with two interceptions.

Unfortunately, the team also lost star defensive back D.Q. Thomas to graduation and will likely continue to struggle to stop the pass.

Other DBs worth noting are RS junior cornerback Rachaun Mitchell who was named to Athlon Sports’ preseason All-Conference Third Team after recording 23 tackles and two interceptions last year and free safety Shannon Showers who will be entering his second season as the full-time starter.