By The Associated Press
HATTIESBURG — Just one game into the season, the Southern Miss offense is having to dig deep in the roster to find playmakers because of injuries.
Receiver Kelvin Bolden suffered an apparent concussion in the second quarter in last week’s win over Louisiana Tech. Even worse, running back Desmond Johnson went down with an ankle injury, and likely won’t make the trip to Marshall on Saturday for the Conference USA opener.
Southern Miss coach Larry Fedora doesn’t comment on individual injuries, but Johnson’s mother told the Hattiesburg American her son suffered a sprained MCL and is expected to miss at least two weeks.
“It’s tough to watch him struggle with an injury like this,” fellow running back Kendrick Hardy said. “He’s worked so hard in the weight room and through camp, and I know he wants to be out there.”
Fedora said he expects redshirt freshman Jamal Woodyard and sophomore Jeremy Hester to step up and help Hardy carry the load.
Woodyard rushed for 110 yards on 10 carries in USM’s spring game, but only had two plays against Louisiana Tech, both passes, in last week’s win. Hester weighs just 180 pounds, but runs with surprising power.
“Those two guys are anxious to get in there,” Fedora said. “They’ve been champing at the bit to get some playing time, and they’re going to have an opportunity so we’ll see what they can do with it.”
The Eagles rushed for 153 yards in the victory over Louisiana Tech, but the running backs only accounted for 84. Fedora said the running game was non-existent.
“It was disappointing. We have to be a lot better in the run game if we are going to be effective,” he said. “We have to do a better job of blocking on the perimeter, the offensive line has to do a better job inside, the running backs have to do a better job of running the ball. . Heck, even the quarterbacks have to do a better job of handing it off.”
The revamped Southern Miss defense didn’t know what to expect from freshman quarterback Nick Isham and the Louisiana Tech defense, and may face a similar problem this week.
Like Tech, the Thundering Herd has turned to a true freshman quarterback, Rakeem Cato, and the tape from Marshall’s 34-17 loss to West Virginia isn’t helping much.
Cato completed 15 of his 21 pass attempts for 157 yards, and impressed USM defensive tackle Terrance Pope.
“He’s better than the guy they had back there last year,” Pope said. “He looked poised, not jittery at all. I mean, I’m sure he was nervous, but he didn’t show it.”
The Herd ran 43 plays, about as many snaps as Southern Miss took in the first half against Tech, before the game ended in the fourth quarter because of lightning.
“The things they did last year, they aren’t doing this year.” Fedora said. “They’ve tailored what they’re doing to their quarterback, so all we really have to go on is that little bit of tape from last week. It’s almost like it’s another first game, with a lot of what ifs and unknowns. We’ll just have to be football players when we get out there and adjust to whatever they do.”