Southern Miss is not very good. Their combined record from the last two seasons is 1-23. Last season they were outscored 503-205. Making matters worse for me, the Golden Eagle offense averaged 4.62 yards per play and scored 21 points or more only three times the entire season. But, stay with me here, this offense will help Alabama's defense get better. While these teams are getting a big paycheck to come to Tuscaloosa and get stomped around for three hours or so, they also present a tremendous opportunity for the players to get better. So, I believe a solid understanding of what Southern Miss's quarterback Nick Mullens brings to the table will give you an understanding of how the Alabama defense looks to improve before starting SEC play.
Last season, Southern Miss was a pass first team. Mullens, a freshman last year out of Hoover, Alabama, played in nine games. Mullens completed 49% of his passes while throwing for 1,776 yards, 13 touchdowns, and 14 interceptions. Though not an eye-opening stat line, Mullens did show improvement as he gained more experience. In the last game of the season (USM's first and only win of the season against UAB), Mullens lit the Blazers up for 370 yards and 5 touchdowns and completed 61.5% of his passes.
Southern Miss looks to capitalize on the improvements of Mullens as they look to improve in 2014. They have already matched last year's season win total by beating Alcorn State last week 26-20. In their first game of the season, the Golden Eagles took a 49-0 beating at the hands of Mississippi State.
Southern Miss is in the middle of a slight identity change as they work under first year offensive coordinator Chip Lindsey. Lindsey spent last season as an offensive analyst for Gus Malzahn at Auburn. Working under Malzahn, Lindsey undoubtedly wants to bring some of the infamous ground-based spread offense principles to Hattiesburg. Southern Miss has shown signs of change already under Lindsay. In 2013, Southern Miss had 485 passing attempts and only 335 rushing attempts. This season, the Golden Eagles have passed and rushed the ball 75 times each.
As one would expect, Mullens played well in Southern Miss's victory and played poorly in the loss. Against Mississippi State, Mullens went 20-42 for 212 yards and two interceptions. Against Alcorn State, Mullens played much more efficiently, completing 21 of 38 for 208 yards and 2 touchdowns.
I couldn't find any film of the Alcorn State game on YouTube, but let's take a look at Mullens against Mississippi State to see what he brings to the table.
Mullens threw an intereception on the first drive of the game in a botched screen pass. The pass was tipped at the line of scrimmage in what was going to be a screen pass for a minimal gain. While his second intereception was a pretty bad read (Miss. St. cornerback Jay Hughes was blanketing receiver and he had safety help in the middle of the field), I can cut him a break on this one because, down 28-0 with 11 seconds left in the half, a field goal doesn't help and there's really no harm in throwing an interception there.
On this play in the first quarter, Southern Miss runs an interesting play in which Mullens fakes to one of the two running backs in the backfield while the other back breaks to the opposite flats. Mullens does a good job of letting his receiver get out to the flats before throwing the ball. He also does a nice job of throwing a good ball while getting nailed by a Bulldog defender.
In his longest completion of the game (seen here), Mullens throws a tight spiral to receiver James Cox in traffic. Mullens splits two defensive backs and places the ball perfectly square on Cox's numbers.
At the end of the day, it's a little hard to hype up Nick Mullens. The Southern Miss offense is in a period of transition and is still trying to figure out their identity. Mullens is a young quarterback with potential, but a guy who is expectedly overmatched against top competition. Mullens has shown flashes of brilliance against the likes of UAB and Alcorn State, but I wouldn't expect him to have a career game against the Alabama defense.
At the very least, Mullens is a decent C-USA quarterback who, if he makes the right reads and gets in a groove, has the opportunity to have at least marginal success against the young Alabama secondary. Like FAU, Southern Miss presents a spread-ish offense that will prepare the Tide for some of the SEC's most prolific offenses.
In conclusion, let's get to know Mullens even better with this informative video.