Through the first seven football practices of preseason, the University of Southern Mississippi offense and defense have taken turns with the upper hand.
That pattern continued through day eight, as the Golden Eagle offense and defense took turns taking the measure of one another during the first scrimmage of the preseason Saturday morning at Roberts Stadium.
“If I had to give the edge, I’d give the edge to the offense (Saturday),” USM head football coach Jay Hopson said. “I thought (quarterback) Nick (Mullens) had some really good throws, (lot of guys) made plays.
“But overall, I thought it was pretty competitive. As a head coach, you like to see a fifty-fifty battle, and I thought there was a lot of back and forth.”
Mullens, who was voted Preseason Conference USA Offensive Player of the Year, threw five touchdown passes during the controlled scrimmage, and added a sixth during red-zone work.
Three scores went to junior college transfer receiver Isaiah Jones, who hauled in five catches for 72 yards, including touchdowns covering 50 yards, 14 yards and 3 yards.
Mullens also threw 25-yard scoring passes to receiver D.J. Thompson and tight end Julian Allen, and added an 8-yard touchdown to another JuCo transfer receiver, Allenzae Staggers.
Parker Adamson, who ascended during the opening week of preseason practice to back up Mullens, threw a pair of touchdowns as well, including 9 yards to Jarrell Aaron and 8 yards to running back Colin Kilcrease.
But the defense got after the quarterback. End Xavier Thigpen was credited with four sacks and tackle Draper Riley added two more.
“Defensively, we executed really well,” defensive end Darian Yancey said. “There are things we can do better, but I thought we did really well.
“Offensively, they did (well), too, but that’s just the how the game of football is. We were playing hard, they were playing hard and I was just out there having fun with my teammates.”
USM’s running game caught the eye of offensive coordinator Shannon Dawson.
Starter Ito Smith gained 51 yards on just three carries, while George Payne added 84 yards on eight carries, including a 42-yard romp. He also scored on an 8-yard run.
“The run game has been a struggle against our defense,” Dawson said. “Those guys are really tough up front.
“But I thought (Saturday) we had a few, explosive plays in the run game, which I hadn’t see yet, and you’ve got to have that. No matter how well you throw it, if you can’t run it and you get one-dimensional, it’s going to be a problem.”
The Golden Eagles will return to the practice field Monday for the first of four, two-a-day sessions scheduled through Aug. 19. Monday’s workouts will start at 7:10 a.m. and 2:30 p.m.
The Golden Eagles kick off the season at 6:30 p.m. on Sept. 3 at the University of Kentucky.