Marshall football: Southern Miss QB getting up to speed
CHARLESTON, W.Va. - Southern Mississippi quarterback Anthony Alford is a season removed from an eye-opening senior campaign at Petal High in Mississippi.
The four-star recruit, ranked the state's No. 2 overall prospect by Rivals.com, won a Class 6A state title and played in the U.S. Army All-American Bowl.
His short college career has been a seismic shift the other way.
The Golden Eagles (0-6, 0-2 Conference USA) remain winless and while Alford has played in five of those games, it's been a mixture of starting and coming off the bench. Yet the 6-foot, 205-pound signal-caller has grown a lot in Coach Ellis Johnson's eyes and is the man to lead the offense as Southern Miss hosts Marshall (2-4, 1-2) at 7 p.m. Saturday (CBS Sports Network).
It's not the physical side of college football that has vexed Alford, Johnson said. It's the increased speed and intricacy of the defenses he's faced.
Johnson figures Alford has seen in one typical game the number of different defensive packages he'd have seen in six high school games.
"Athletically, Anthony was better than a lot of the players we've got before he ever walked in the door," Johnson said.
"But there are so many things you see in coverages and pressures and it's a little bit faster. So it's an adjustment for any quarterback in college coming out of high school. What I've seen is a steady improvement. He seems to get more and more comfortable."
Alford is one of three quarterbacks to start two games this year along with redshirt freshman Ricky Lloyd and redshirt junior Chris Campbell, none of whom had taken a collegiate snap before this year. He started against East Carolina and the University of Central Florida and came off the bench against Nebraska, Western Kentucky and Boise State.
It was against UCF that Alford seemed to nail down the No. 1 quarterback job. He threw for a season-high 165 yards and ran for 71 yards and two touchdowns in the Golden Eagles' 38-31 double-overtime loss. He's rushed for 235 yards and a team-high five touchdowns this year, and has thrown for 373 yards and three interceptions, also team highs.
It's helped that Alford's offensive coordinator, Steve Buckley, was his head coach at Petal for his state championship run. Alford said the familiar face, and familiar offense, have eased his transition.
"It's similar," Alford said of USM's offense. "It's the same kind of stuff but there's more to it. It was simpler in high school. I think (having Buckley there) helped me a lot. Me and Coach Buckley see eye-to-eye. I know how he wants stuff done and he knows what I'm capable of doing."
Johnson feels Alford has grown significantly during his short tenure in Hattiesburg. His effectiveness in the passing game has started to better complement his effectiveness as a runner. And Alford said he's still growing as a locker-room leader as he takes the reins of a winless team as a true freshman.
"I'm more of a person who leads by example," he said. "I'm not as vocal as much as I lead by example. I can be vocal, but I'm not the type of person where, if you screw up, I'm going to yell at you. I'm the type of person that'll encourage you."
Marshall defensive coordinator Chris Rippon said he's not treating Alford like a first-year player this week. After the Golden Eagles took a team considered the class of C-USA to two overtimes, he feels Alford won't succumb to rookie jitters.
"They're running the same plays they're running with all three quarterbacks. They're giving him the playbook. He knows what he's doing. There was a comfort level last week and a confidence they've been developing with him."
Contact sportswriter Derek Redd at email@example.com or 304-348-1712. His blog is at blogs.dailymail.com/marshall.