By Patrick Magee/Hattiesburg American
HATTIESBURG — He’s never played a down in a college football game, but Southern Miss will rely on Chris Campbell as its starting quarterback for Saturday’s season opener at No. 17 Nebraska.
The USM coaching staff had been leaning toward Campbell since spring practice. Offensive coordinator Steve Buckley made it official Monday.
“I think Chris has earned that,” Buckley said.
It will be Campbell’s first start at QB since he was a senior in 2008 at Briarcrest Christian High School in Memphis.
“It’s been a long time coming,” said Campbell, a redshirt junior. “I’m real excited.”
Even though Campbell will be the first on the field, coach Ellis Johnson and Buckley have left open the possibility of redshirt freshman Ricky Lloyd and freshman Anthony Alford also playing.
“I can’t tell you when in a game situation it might be,” Buckley said of that possibility. “I think the game will dictate that.”
Buckley met with the three quarterbacks following the final scrimmage of fall camp on Aug. 19 and told them Campbell would likely be the starter.
“They had a chance to talk to me and I talked to them,” Buckley said. “The strange thing about it is all four of us in the room agreed to it. It wasn’t their choice, but I think everybody is comfortable with where it is right now.”
Campbell took the news as a huge relief and proof he was able to prove himself to a new coaching staff.
“It felt really good,” he said. “It was a huge load off my shoulders. I worked really hard for this for four years. I felt like I deserved it. I’m very fortunate and happy the coaches have the confidence in me to be that good.”
After Alford and Lloyd were informed they would likely not be starting at Nebraska, Buckley said he saw improved performance from both younger QBs.
In the end, it was that youth and inexperience that helped Campbell get the nod.
“The thing that Chris brings us is some stability right now,” Buckley said. “We’re going into a stadium that holds 86,000 people. It’s going to be loud.
“It’s going to be nationally televised. We understand that and I think Chris is a very mature young man. He’s 21 years old. He’s been in the college system going on his fourth year. We just felt like that’s our best opportunity.”
Johnson started the spring with an eye on finding a dual-threat quarterback who could run the offense. Many saw that as an indication the extremely athletic Alford or a gifted scrambler like Lloyd could get the starting job.
However, Buckley said Monday that Campbell works well within his system.
“I think Chris fits what we want to do from his mindset,” Buckley said.
“Chris possesses more athleticism than people may give him credit for and he understands what we’re doing throwing the football. He puts us in the right plays when we’re checking. I think he brings all those things to the table.”
Starting middle linebacker Alan Howze has been matching wits with Campbell since the start of spring practice, and he’s been impressed with how Campbell runs the show.
“He definitely has the experience,” Howze said. “Out there at practice, he was able to call out the protection correctly. That was one test with the quarterbacks that was giving them trouble, but Chris was consistent with it.
“That’s a good thing to know he’s able to call out the right directions and have the linemen go wherever he needs them.”
Campbell will have the benefit of playing behind an offensive line that has four returning starters, including center Austin Quattrochi.
“The thing I really admire about Chris is he’s a good game manager,” Quattrochi said. “He doesn’t get overworked. He’s always calm and even-tempered.”
Campbell realizes he’ll have a huge task when he faces a big Nebraska defense.
“They have a very good defense,” Campbell said. “They’re very big, very physical and very fast. I’ve been preparing for it hard on and off the field.”
Information from: The Hattiesburg American, http://www.hattiesburgamerican.com