HATTIESBURG, MS (WDAM) - There was never any doubt concerning Ito Smith's role entering the 2016 season. The junior was fresh off a 1,000 yard rushing season.
So who would replace the production left by Jalen Richard, who is now with the Oakland Raiders?
Now that was another issue. Based off The University of Southern Mississippi's first game, a 44-35 victory at Kentucky, the Golden Eagles could have that answer.
It was in the form of George Payne. In his first game since tearing his ACL last spring, the junior rushed for 100 yards on 16 carries.
This went along with Smith's impressive night which included 173 yards and a touchdown on 36 carries.
"When George got in there I thought George played great," USM offensive coordinator Shannon Dawson said. "From the spring 'till now, that kid has made extreme strides."
Dawson said he had to light a little spark into the offensive line. This was huge in the team's comeback victory.
"We challenged those guys," he said. "And we challenged them at halftime. I told them at halftime I said look guys we gotta run the football."
With Smith being more lighting with his running style, Dawson feels Payne can offer some thunder to his rushing.
"They're a great compliment to each other," Dawson said. "If you just look at them. Ito is the kind of guy that obviously you want to get that guy in space. Although we were running him between the tackles a good bit, I didn't feel like he was taking a beating."
It is just one game but Smith and Payne offered a glimpse of what can be in the Golden Eagles' backfield.
Dawson knows nothing will come unless the offensive line keeps it going.
"I don't care what kind of offense or defense you run," Dawson said. "The game is won up front on both sides of the ball. I don't care if you've got Tom Brady back there, I mean if you can't protect and he's on the ground guess what, you know you're not going to have a very good day."