2019 Conference USA QB Preview: Southern Miss
While Brett Favre is obviously the most famous quarterback and player to ever come from Southern Miss, Southern Miss actually has a history of producing good quarterbacks. Names that come to mind are Dustin Almond, Jeff Kelly, Austin Davis, and most recently Nick Mullens. I am sure there have been more, but those are the only ones I have watched play or can remember. All of those guys mentioned above were at least in training camp with an NFL team at some point in their career with Mullens starting multiple games for the 49ers last year and Davis was on the Titans for some of the 2018 season. Random side note, I actually had a cut out from a college football magazine of Dustin Almond on my wall when I was a freshman in high school.
I bring up the history of the Southern Miss quarterbacks to pose a question. Is the next NFL quarterback from Southern Miss on the current roster? The Golden Eagles return all of their major quarterback experience from last year and bring in several talented incoming freshmen. Even with USM’s leading passer returning, there is still a quarterback competition, and it will most likely continue into the fall. The Southern Miss offense was ranked in the middle of the pack last year in conference as they were 8th out of 14 teams in CUSA in points per game, averaging 26.2. At times the offense looked great, like when they scored 40 against Rice. At other times they struggled, like when they scored 7 against North Texas. Their quarterback play was pretty good overall and they ended up being 4th in conference in passing yards per game with 255. Whoever ends up taking the majority of snaps for the Golden Eagles in 2019 will look to continue to improve the passing game in hopes that it leads to scoring more points on a consistent basis.
2018 QB Performance
- Jack Abraham and Tate Whatley took every meaningful snap under center last year for Southern Miss.
- Abraham started 9 of the 11 games and Whatley started two. Whatley did get playing time in six games and the game against Charlotte he came off the bench and almost led them back for a
- Abraham led the nation in completion percentage as his was 73.1. He also threw for 15 touchdowns and 10 interceptions.
- Whatley threw for 451 yards, 4 touchdowns, and 1 interception. He was also third on the team in rush yards with 162 and added three rushing touchdowns.
2019 QB Preview
Anytime a team’s starting quarterback ended up leading all of division 1 in completion percentage returns, he is usually the obvious starting quarterback for the following season. However, that is not the case in this situation. In this case the returning starting quarterback is Jack Abraham. While I think it is safe to say he is probably the favorite to win the job or at least start the season opener, there is still a competition going on. The fact that there is a quarterback competition isn’t a slight towards Abraham, but rather a compliment to the other quarterbacks on the roster. Abraham had a solid first year starting last season for the Golden Eagles and is only going to improve under new offensive coordinator, Buster Faulkner. I think the only reason there is a quarterback competition is due to the inconsistencies on the offensive side of the football. At times their offense looked great, and at other times they couldn’t get anything going. Tate Whatley had a good spring and showed his potential last year when he got his opportunity. Southern Miss also has two incoming freshmen that I really like, Jaden Johnson and Chandler Rogers. Johnson was originally committed to Louisville, before changing his mind and signing with Southern Miss. He had several Power 5 offers according to 24/7 Sports. Johnson has a smooth release, throws a good ball, and is used to playing under center or in shotgun, which can be rare these days to be good at both. Rogers is a dual threat quarterback from Texas. He is a solid athlete who can make plays with his arm as well as with his legs. While I don’t think Johnson or Rogers will compete for the starting job right away, they are names to remember down the road, as either one of them could up starting at some point. I have brief write ups on twitter on both Johnson and Rogers if anyone is interested in more on them. Southern Miss also has a few other quarterbacks on the roster that will add depth, but with that said, let’s take a look at both Abraham and Whatley and what makes each of them quality quarterbacks.
Before the 2018 season, Jack Abraham was not expected to start for Southern Miss, much less get much playing time right off the bat. Kwadra Griggs was the most likely candidate to be the starter and Keon Howard was right behind him with a chance to overtake him as the starter. However, Howard ended up transferring and Griggs was suspended from the team before the season started. Griggs ended up coming back for a few games during the year, but only saw the field for a few plays and that was it. Needless to say, Abraham got kind of thrown in the fire, but stepped up to the occasion. Abraham did more than get his feet wet as he led the nation in completion percentage. While efficient and accurate, the offense last year did not stretch the field nor push it down the field as much as some would like. The offense this year should be more open and should give Abraham or whoever ends up starting the ability to push the ball downfield. When Abraham is on, he does a good job of anticipating what the wide receiver is going to do and getting rid of the ball. In doing this, he takes what the defense gives him. When Abraham gets into trouble tends to be when the defense has done a good job disguising what coverage they are in. For example, pre-snap the defense may look Cover 2, but end up being Cover 3 taking the middle of the field away. With that said, the better you get at reading defenses is by seeing more defenses, knowing what to look for and expect, and knowing what to do when your initial read is wrong. All the experience and success Abraham had in the 2018 season will go a long way in helping Abraham hold on to the starting job for the 2019 season. Below is a clip of Abraham demonstrating a good pre-snap read and good anticipation over the middle of the field out of his own end-zone.
The situations with both Griggs and Howard not only allowed Abraham to start quickly, but allowed Whatley to move up the depth chart quickly as a true freshman. Whatley started two games for the Golden Eagles last season, leading USM to victory over Marshall and losing to UAB in overtime. He also appeared in four other games for USM to make it a total of 6 games played in during the 2018 season. While he burned a potential redshirt last year, that playing time led to valuable experience and gave him the opportunity to show the coaching staff his potential under center. Regardless if Whatley ends up passing Abraham or not and becoming the starter, he will add valuable depth at the quarterback position, largely due to the experience and growth he had by playing as a true freshman. Whatley is a good athlete who did a good job last year using his legs for USM when he was under center. As mentioned earlier, he was third on the team in rushing yards. He was the leading rusher twice last year. He had 62 yards rushing against Charlotte in a game he came off the bench due to an injury to Abraham, and was also the teams’ leading rusher against Marshall, in a game he started and a game USM won. Southern Miss was able to rely on Whatley when needed as a freshman last year, and this year the coaching staff should have even more confidence in him whenever his number is called. Below is a clip of one of Whatley’s touchdowns against Charlotte. This is a good job taking advantage of blown coverage and delivering an accurate ball to an open receiver down the field.
Overall, Southern Miss has a good quarterback situation heading into the 2019 season. Their starter from 2018 is returning, their back up is pushing that starter for the 2019 job, and they have several incoming freshmen who have potential to develop down the road. Not every program can say that. In my opinion, from the outside looking in, I think Abraham will end up starting under center. His play from last year should help his case in getting the start in the opener, and I see him being able to continue to develop into a solid quarterback. I think the job will be his to lose, but if his play isn’t what the coaches are looking for, they will have good options behind him. I don’t have any insider knowledge and could be totally wrong about everything that I just mentioned, but just my opinion on the whole quarterback situation at Southern Miss. Regardless who ends up getting the majority of the reps, the quarterback play should be good enough to get Southern Miss back to a bowl game this