Taming Tide the test for Hopson|[9/8/05]
Published 12:00 am Thursday, September 8, 2005
From Sean P. Murphy
Fourteen years ago, Southern Miss defensive coordinator John Thompson put in place a system that used odd formations, ultra-aggressive players and a hunger for the football that has put the Golden Eagles’ on the national map.
Each year since, when the Southern Miss football team is mentioned, the first words usually deal with the defense.
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In those 14 years, the team has seen three different coordinators continue what Thompson started, maintaining one of the staunchest defenses in the country.
The fourth coordinator will begin his quest Saturday in one of the Eagles’ toughest assignments of the season.
Jay Hopson, a Warren Central graduate, former Ole Miss football player and assistant, will take the field as defensive coordinator for the first time on Saturday night when the Eagles play at Alabama.
“Whether you’re a defensive coordinator or not, you are going to have butterflies for your first game,” Hopson said from his Memphis hotel. “If you don’t have butterflies, it’s time to get out of coaching. We’ll be excited and anxious and ready for the season to start.”
Hopson and the Eagles have been running operations out of a hotel and he said logistical problems, as well as being away from Hattiesburg, have posed a challenge.
Practice schedules, coaches meetings and everyday game preparations have been changed.
“It’s just not the same routine,” said Hopson, entering his fourth season overall with Southern Miss and first since spending a year as an Ole Miss assistant. “Every kid and coach has had to adjust to a tough time. Everyone is staying focused.”
Hopson has been focused mostly on an Alabama team that has won every meeting but one against the Eagles over the past 15 years. Alabama ran the ball 51 times for 262 yards in last year’s 27-3 victory. Kenneth Darby ran for a career-high 197 yards and scored a touchdown.
Darby returns along with standout quarterback Brodie Croyle, who missed the Southern Miss game last season with an injury.
“When (Croyle’s) on the field, they are a much more balanced team,” Hopson said.
The Crimson Tide is coming off a 26-7 victory over Middle Tennessee State in which they held MTSU scoreless in the second half.
Hopson spent three years as the Golden Eagles’ defensive backs coach before leaving for Ole Miss in 2004. After Ole Miss coach David Cutcliffe was fired and USM defensive coordinator Tyrone Nix left for the same spot at South Carolina, Hopson returned to Hattiesburg.
Southern Miss returns 17 starters from last year’s 7-5 team that won the New Orleans Bowl.
Alabama, which holds a 33-6-2 record over the history of the series, barely missed making the Top 25.
This will be the last game in a series that has been ongoing for more than 20 years.