This week we were able to catch up with Jamie Arrington of To The Top Talk, which is a Southern Miss themed radio show/podcast on 1400 AM and 98.1 FM in Hattiesburg, Miss.
Question: Southern Miss has been one of the hottest teams in the conference over the past several weeks. What have you seen in this team that makes them so good now?
Jamie Arrington: I think all of our success right now can clearly be attributed to CUSA commissioner Judy MacLeod. We are power-wheeling our way through this conference schedule. OK, clearly I’m joking. I think there are a number of factors in play. It certainly helps with the continuity on the coaching staff. The defense has been playing outstanding. The depth on the defensive line is as good as it has been in over a decade, and there is a lot of experience in the secondary. The return of left tackle Drake Dorbeck has been huge, and the offensive line has been able to shuffle into the best possible fit. Also, we have multiple playmakers at the skill positions, and there has been an influx of speed this season on both sides of the ball. Most importantly, we’ve been able to win games when we haven’t played at our best.
Q: What makes Ito Smith such a special running back?
JA: Vision and versatility. He does an excellent job of allowing his blockers time to engage, and with the slightest open gap he can escape defenders within arms reach and make an explosive play. He is a huge threat as a pass catcher as well and has already eclipsed 1,000 yards for the third straight season. Ito is the kind of high-character, team-first player that every coach wants on their roster. I fully expect him to be the next in a long line of CUSA running backs to have success at the next level.
Q: How was North Texas able to be so successful in Hattiesburg?
JA: The Mean Green played the game like they had nothing to lose. USM jumped out to an early lead, but UNT never faltered. They never gave in and often had to go for it on fourth down to keep drives going. Ultimately, North Texas found a matchup they could exploit in the second half and took full advantage of it before we could correct. Quarterback Mason Fine was on point and wide receiver Jalen Guyton torched us for 211 yards and a touchdown. There were several times that the ball just didn’t bounce our way, but North Texas straight up earned that victory in every facet of the game.
Q: What is the one thing that scares you about UAB coming into this game?
Bill Clark. The man can coach. During the summer, I felt like the coaches/media were severely underestimating UAB football. Anytime we talked CUSA, I think the quote I used on the show was “UAB is going to sneak up on somebody. I just hope they don’t sneak up on us.” The good news is the Blazers can’t sneak up on us because they are already in the mix for the West Division title. I think Bill Clark and the strategy he has used to swiftly rebuild the program is a part of that. I think the Charlotte game was an anomaly. We fully expect the Blazers to be game, and we expect Bill Clark to pull out all of the stops.
Q: What is your prediction for this game?
I’m not a fan of making predictions so take this with a grain of salt because I’ve never been able to get one right. I think UAB will come into Hattiesburg focused and motivated, but I think the Golden Eagle defense will be the difference in this game. Southern Miss should be going with Keon Howard at quarterback again this week, and he is a gunslinger … meaning that he is going to beat the Blazers with some passes that will be borderline perfect and then have some that will hit the defender in the hands. I see progress out of him every week and I think he will be a huge part of a read-option running game that should be the bread-and-butter of the Golden Eagle offense this week. Expect a healthy dose of running back Tez Parks, a very gifted athlete who has been hampered by injuries most of his career. It would not shock me for this game to be a nail-biter, but for the sake of prediction, I think it will be Southern Miss 33, UAB 20. Don’t @ me next week if I’m wrong.
Big thanks to Jamie for taking some time to answer a couple of questions. And every please make sure you @ him (@ToTheTopTalk) if UAB pulls off the upset on Saturday.