HATTIESBURG, Miss. (WDAM) - Scotty Walden picked a good game to begin his Southern Miss coaching career.
Just 12 days after being appointed USM’s interim head coach, Walden leads the Golden Eagles into Conference USA play against Louisiana Tech.
With the resignation of head coach Jay Hopson on September 7, USM’s bye week has been anything but normal. However, Walden’s injected he Eagles with new life.
The team begins each practice with the “Eagle Drill” – a head-to-head, one-on-one battle at midfield which sets the tone for what Walden wants to see in practice and on gamedays.
“We want them to play extremely fast and we want to win the physical battle,” Walden said. “Not only mental toughness but physical toughness as well…In order to get that, you have to practice that way.”
“It was very unsettling at first because after the first game, your head coach is gone,” said USM senior linebacker Swayze Bozeman. “But I think it’s gonna be a good change for us. We’ve had a lot more energy, a lot more focus at practice. It’s getting to be really fun cause coach Walden brings so much energy to practice every day. He’s crazy, so that’s fun to play for. I think this is going to be really helpful for us.”
The “Rivalry in Dixie” is the second-most played series in C-USA – one Southern Miss leads 35-16-1.
But the Bulldogs took last season’s meeting 45-30, behind the strength of Conference USA’s second-ranked offense (32.5 points per game and 436.8 yards per game).
Justin Henderson returns for Louisiana Tech after 1,062 yards and 15 touchdowns last year. USM knows it will need to be much more sound defensively in game no. 2.
“Biggest thing was tackling for sure,” said USM defensive coordinator Tony Pecoraro. “We got to get 'em on the ground. You can’t let them take a simple hitch route and let them go 80 yards. It’s unacceptable.”
“Being aggressive, making tackles,” Bozeman said. “That’s what we lacked in the South Alabama game – missed a bunch of tackles and then gave up the deep ball. When you do that it’s hard to win, don’t matter who you play.”
“That’s always first game stuff,” said USM sophomore linebacker Averie Habas. “You aren’t perfect at it. That’s a good opportunity having a bye week this past week, too. We worked on our tackling, we worked on running to the ball, gang tackling. It was a good week to have after the first game.”
On the other side of the football, Walden wants to ramp things up.
Offensive coordinator Matt Kubik will continue to call plays but Walden said they have collaborated on ideas for USM’s offense, including a more attack style.
The mantra at practice has been “fearless, fast, physical” – which is how East Texas Baptist played under Walden in 2016, leading Division III football with an average of 49.9 points per game.
“If we’re playing on our own 20 all night, we’re not going to sit there and go for it and give Louisiana Tech a short field like that,” Walden said. “But we’re going to play aggressive and if we feel something, we’re going to rock and roll. This whole game is about points…Football at the end of the day, who’s got more points than the other team? And that’s it. So, we better be on a chase and a quest to go achieve as many points as possible every drive.”
USM promotes two staffers
A couple of quality control coaches have been promoted to assistant roles for the remainder of USM’s 2020 season.
Southern Miss grad Kelvin Bolden will coach wide receivers while Brandon Butcher will serve as an assistant defensive backs coach.
Bolden returned to his alma mater in the spring after two seasons as an assistant at Pearl River Community College. The 2011 USM graduate caught 104 passes for 1,393 yards and 13 touchdowns in two seasons with the Golden Eagles.
Butcher joined Southern in March 2019 as a Graduate Assistant.