Smith, Staggers headline Southern Miss players to watch


Southern Miss defensive back Picasso Nelson Jr. celebrates with Southern Miss linebacker D’Nerius Antoine during the football game against Southern Miss on Saturday, September 3, 2016 in Lexington, Ky. Photo by Hunter Mitchell | Staff

Brianna Dooley

This Saturday, the UK football team will be going up against the Southern Miss Golden Eagles who will look to defeat the Cats for the second straight year after last season’s 44-35 victory. 

In the 2016 season, the Golden Eagles finished a record of 7-6, including their New Orleans Bowl game victory over UL Lafayette.

Now, Southern Miss returns a handful of playmakers from last year’s squad who could cause problems for the Cats on Saturday, including senior RB Ito Smith. 

Smith is described as fast and explosive and his stats prove just that. He’s led his team in rushing yards for the past three seasons and he is only getting better.

Last year, Smith carved UK’s defense for 173 rushing yards and a touchdown en route to Southern Miss’ victory. Smith wound up finishing the season with 1,459 rushing yards, his second time rushing over 1,000 yards in a season.

In his career, Smith has over 3,000 rushing yards and 1,050 receiving yards under his belt in 30 starting appearances. In that time, Smith has collected 34 touchdowns and cannot be overlooked in the game to come.

Senior WR Allenzae Staggers is another player on the offense who the Cats should keep their eyes on.

Staggers played his first season with the Golden Eagles in 2016 and racked up 1,165 receiving yards in the process. He started 11 of the 13 games and came out as the teams’ receiving leader once the season was over.

Staggers is mostly known for his record-breaking performance against Rice on Oct. 1 last season. In the game, Staggers caught six passes for 292 yards, a new school record. He also caught three touchdowns in the game with receptions of 75, 81 and 93 yards.

According to ESPN, Staggers was the first college player in 10 years to catch three touchdown passes over 75 yards. His performance earned him an ESPN helmet sticker.

On the defensive side, senior DB Picasso Nelson Jr. is a standout and projects to be a leader for Southern Miss this season.

Nelson was third in tackles for the second year in a row with 48 total, including 26 solo tackles. Nelson was also tied for first in interceptions along with three of his other teammates with two total. Not to mention that both of his interceptions came from the fourth quarter of their regular season finisher against Louisiana Tech, when the pressures were really high.

He played in all 13 games but started in 11. Before the season started, Nelson was named to the Preseason All-Conference USA.

Southern Miss has a lot of standout players who will bring the heat this Saturday against the Cats. This rematch is one that is well anticipated by UK and the Golden Eagles are hoping to win for a second time.