Defense sparks No. 25 Southern Miss win streak

Southern Miss coach Larry Fedora bounded off the practice field

with a wide grin on his face, joking with players and slapping them

on the back as the Golden Eagles made their way toward the locker


These are good times at Southern Miss. – the Golden Eagles are

on a seven-game winning streak and are back in the Top 25 for the

first time in seven years.

Fedora admits he has little to complain about.

”I was trying to think of the last time I wasn’t really happy

with a practice,” Fedora said. ”That was a long, long time


No. 25 Southern Miss (8-1, 5-1 Conference USA) has a clear path

to the C-USA Eastern Division title if the Golden Eagles can win

their final three games – starting with Central Florida (4-5, 2-3)

on Saturday at Roberts Stadium.

The Golden Eagles have shown a knack for big plays during the

winning streak. They had four non-offensive touchdowns during last

week’s 48-28 victory over East Carolina, including two interception

returns, one punt return and one punt block return.

The Southern Miss defense – which has been a liability in past

years – is suddenly the strongest unit on the team. The Golden

Eagles are giving up just 19.6 points per game, which ranks second

in C-USA.

That’s in large part to an opportunistic pass defense that’s

come up with 13 interceptions and returned five of those for


”Every time we touch the ball these days, we feel like we’re

going to score,” cornerback Deron Wilson said. ”That’s the

difference between a good defensive player and a great defensive

player – doing something with the ball in your hands once you get


Wilson, a 5-foot-10, 175-pound sophomore from New Orleans, has

two interceptions this season while fellow cornerback Marquese

Wheaton has three. Both have returned one for a touchdown.

While Wilson is in his second year as a starter, Wheaton, a

5-foot-10, 170-pound senior from Phoenix, has thrived in an

increased role after playing most of last season a backup.

”Early in the season I wasn’t getting many balls my way because

they were trying to pick on Marquese,” Wilson said. ”But now he’s

shown he makes plays. So who you gonna throw to now? You’ve got to

throw it somewhere. Pick your poison.”

Fedora said it’s been fun to watch his defense become more

confident. He said the momentum and confidence they’ve gained is

just as important as their athletic ability.

”There’s truth to that,” Fedora said. ”You get that drop of

blood in the water and the sharks start coming. Our guys feed off

that stuff. They get excited and the blood gets flowing. It makes

the game so much more fun.”

Southern Miss has adapted quickly to the new 4-2-5 defensive

scheme that co-defensive coordinator Dan Disch installed after

coming to the Golden Eagles from Illinois. Wilson said the clean

slate in the offseason tightened everyone’s focus.

”It really made us concentrate in the film room,” Wilson said.

”We’re not just learning our position, but also what the person

next to you is doing. There’s a lot more understanding of what

everyone’s job is and that makes us move as one.”

Now the Golden Eagles are just two wins away from their first

10-win season since 1988. There’s also a possible showdown with

Houston in the Conference USA championship game looming if both

teams take care of business.

But Wilson said he’s trying not to think too far ahead.

”We’re human, so we occasionally talk about it,” Wilson said.

”But the reality is there’s a lot of football left. We’re going to

stay hungry.”

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