Matchup breakdown: Mississippi State cornerbacks vs. Southern Miss receivers
In preparation for Saturday’s season-opener between Mississippi State and Southern Miss, Saturday Down South is taking a look at the key matchups that may decide the showdown between the Bulldogs and the Golden Eagles.
Mississippi State CBs Jamerson Love and Taveze Calhoun vs. Southern Miss WRs Markese Triplett and Tyre’oune Holmes
The Southern Miss Golden Eagles struggled on offense throughout last season’s 1-11 campaign, but they return their top two targets in the passing game in wideouts Tyre’oune Holmes and Markese Triplett.
Holmes burst into the Southern Miss starting lineup as a freshman in 2013, catching a team-high 53 passes for 410 yards and two touchdowns. Triplett also showed flashes of big-play ability as a redshirt junior, catching 33 balls for a team-leading 558 yards at nearly 17 yards per reception. Triplett also led the team with four touchdowns.
In addition to its wide receiver tandem, Southern Miss also brought back starting quarterback Nick Mullens, who is sure to look for both Holmes and Triplett early and often in Saturday’s opener in Starkville.
The Golden Eagles have not run the ball well in recent years, putting even more emphasis on their passing attack. USM’s top three rushers combined to run for just 908 yards and three touchdowns in 2013, and leading rusher Kendrick Hardy has since graduated after racking up 419 yards and two touchdowns as a senior. Expect Southern Miss to focus on its passing game and lean on Holmes and Triplett to be its playmakers in big situations.
Playing across the line of scrimmage from Southern Miss’ star receivers will be Mississippi State cornerbacks Jamerson Love and Taveze Calhoun. Love and Calhoun both earned starting roles last season and are slated as the Bulldogs’ starters once again in 2014, leaving them the task of slowing down USM’s top targets.
Calhoun and Love each intercepted three passes last season and combined for 11 pass breakups and 17 passes defended on the year. The Bulldogs’ defense allowed opposing offenses to complete just 62 percent of their passes in 2013.
MSU’s corners will miss departed free safety Nickoe Whitley, who graduated from school following last season. Whitley was an extra safety net in the back-end of the Bulldogs’ defense, recording 55 tackles and a team-high five interceptions. Without Whitley playing behind them, Calhoun and Love will be expected to do more on their own in pass coverage, a challenge they both embrace with open arms.
Mullens and the rest of the Southern Miss offense have yet to prove they can find consistent success moving the ball, and if Calhoun and Love can eliminate the Golden Eagles’ top two weapons, moving the ball will become that much harder.