No. 24 Southern Miss prepares for No. 7 Houston
Southern Miss has its first 10-win season since 1988. Now the
24th-ranked Golden Eagles want their first Conference USA title
Standing in the way: The most prolific passing quarterback in
Southern Miss is preparing for its first C-USA championship game
appearance since 2006. The Golden Eagles travel to face No. 7
Houston and its high-flying offense on Saturday, led by sixth-year
senior quarterback Case Keenum.
”We wouldn’t rather be anywhere else,” Southern Miss defensive
coordinator Dan Disch said. ”But it’s a heckuva challenge. They
can humble you quick and we’re well aware of that.”
After three oh-so-close seasons under coach Larry Fedora, the
Golden Eagles finally captured the C-USA’s Eastern Division title
on Saturday with a 44-7 win against Memphis 44-7. Fedora’s teams
have always possessed a potent offense, but it’s an improved
defense that moved Southern Miss to the top of the division.
That defense is about to face easily its biggest challenge.
”There’s no secret to what they do,” Southern Miss coach Larry
Fedora said. ”It’s not like they are doing something different
week in and week out. They do what they do. They are going to run
the routes the way they run them. They are going to go up tempo.
They are going to run the ball when you give them numbers, and they
will try to take advantage of you.”
Keenum’s numbers are staggering, and the Heisman candidate is
already the NCAA career leader in passing yards, touchdown passes
and total offense. He’s completed 342 of 467 passes (73.2 percent)
this season for 4,726 yards, 43 touchdowns and just three
interceptions. The Cougars lead the Football Bowl Subdivision by
averaging 52.7 points and 613.2 total yards.
Southern Miss linebacker Ronnie Thornton said Keenum’s obviously
a huge reason for all those yards and touchdowns, but he has plenty
”His timing with his receivers is great and they’ve really got
an ability to make a play after the catch,” Thornton said. ”Some
teams, you have one or two players you have to watch for, but
wherever he throws that player can make a huge play.”
Houston’s Patrick Edwards has caught 74 passes for 1,496 yards
and 18 touchdowns. Charles Sims has rushed for 750 yards and nine
touchdowns while averaging 7.9 yards per carry. The Cougars have
won their past seven games by a combined score of 406-101 for an
average margin of victory of nearly 44 points per game.
But Thornton said the Golden Eagles aren’t going to get
distracted by the gaudy statistics.
”At the beginning of the season we set the goal to win the
conference championship,” Thornton said. ”We didn’t set a goal to
see if we could get to the championship. We want to win. Come
Saturday, we’ll see how that goes.”
Southern Miss may not have the same immaculate resume as the
Cougars, but there are still reasons for confidence.
The Golden Eagles have won nine of their past 10 games, with the
only setback coming on Nov. 17 in a surprising 34-31 loss to
Alabama-Birmingham. But they recovered with an easy victory over
Memphis to gain some momentum heading into Saturday’s showdown –
which is the first time the C-USA championship has been played
between two nationally-ranked teams.
And even though the numbers are quite as eye-popping, Southern
Miss has its own successful veteran quarterback – fifth-year senior
Austin Davis. He’s thrown for 3,052 yards, 24 touchdowns and 10
interceptions this season, providing a steady influence that led
the Golden Eagles to win after win even as the team’s top three
running backs were injured for large parts of the season.
The revolving door of running backs was just one of the
challenges the Golden Eagles faced this season. They also lost
starting middle linebacker Korey Williams to a knee injury after
just four games and learned an entirely new defensive scheme during
the offseason when Disch installed his 4-2-5 scheme after coming to
Southern Miss from Illinois.
Fedora said figuring out a way to stop Houston is just another
obstacle. After four years of waiting for a chance at a conference
title, the Golden Eagles aren’t going to complain about the
”It’s probably taken longer (to make the C-USA title game) than
I wanted it to, to be honest,” Fedora said. ”I felt like we’ve
been in a position to do it each and every year and just didn’t get
over the hump or didn’t get it done for a lot of different reasons
… This year, this team has overcome a lot of things to put
themselves in a position to play for the conference
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