September 24, 2010 8:23:00 AM
HATTIESBURG -- When Southern Miss quarterback Austin Davis was sidelined for the last eight games of the 2009 season because of a foot injury, he tried to take advantage of the new perspective.
He learned more about the game from the coaches'' viewpoint, becoming more diligent in the film room. He also learned a few new tricks about reading defenses.
But mostly, he learned that he really missed playing football.
"Being out on that field is a precious thing and it''s important to me," Davis said. "It can be taken away from you really quickly."
Now that he''s completely healthy, Davis is making the most of his second chance. The 6-foot-2, 200-pound junior has completed 61 of 85 passes (71.8 percent) for 571 yards and a touchdown this season while also rushing for 95 yards and a touchdown.
Davis was at his best during last week''s 31-16 victory over Kansas. He completed 19 of 24 passes for 155 yards, while also rushing for 61 yards and a touchdown.
Southern Miss coach Larry Fedora was most impressed with Davis'' decision making, especially when it came time to decide whether to run or pass.
"When the play broke down and there wasn''t anything there he just took the ball and went," Fedora said. "He had 61 yards rushing and when your quarterback does that at the end of the game we are going to be OK."
Davis'' strength has always been an accurate arm, but his ability to run is often overlooked. During his breakout freshman season in 2008, he rushed for 508 yards and nine touchdowns.
After being sidelined with a torn ligament in his foot last season, there was some question if Davis would be as mobile. But against Kansas, he avoided trouble time and again when the pocket broke down, darting between defenders for crucial gains.
"That was probably the first game where the foot injury never even entered my mind," Davis said. "I felt completely normal. Running''s not really my main thing, but good quarterbacks have to be able to avoid trouble and get a few yards occasionally."
Southern Miss (2-1) faces Louisiana Tech (1-2) on Saturday in Ruston, La. It''s the final non-conference game for the Golden Eagles, who have aspirations of competing for a Conference USA title.
The league appears to be completely wide open, especially after Houston''s star quarterback Case Keenum was recently lost for the season with a knee injury.
With Davis back under center, Southern Miss should have one of the more potent offenses in C-USA. Sophomore running back Desmond Johnson rushed for 89 yards and a touchdown against Kansas. DeAndre Brown has had a slow start, but is considered one of the most talented receivers in the nation.
Defense has sometimes been a trouble spot for the Golden Eagles during Fedora''s three-year tenure, but holding Kansas to 16 points and 274 total yards was a major improvement.
"Really, you look at our schedule and there''s not a game out there that we should lose," Davis said. "We feel like we''re the better team in all of them. Now it''s just making sure we come out with the same intensity that we did against Kansas. If that happens, we''re awfully tough to beat."