Southern Miss prepares for UCF’s strong defense

Southern Miss isn’t usually worried about its offense.

The No. 25 Golden Eagles have scored points in bunches since

coach Larry Fedora arrived in Hattiesburg four years ago, and

currently rank second in Conference USA averaging 37.6 points per

game.

But Southern Miss (8-1, 4-1 C-USA) hosts UCF (4-5, 2-3) on

Saturday and the Knights don’t have just any defense. The Knights

top C-USA in every major category and are giving up just 15.3

points per game.

”They have a great defense. Not just a good defense, a great

defense,” Fedora said. ”Statistically, they are in the top 5

(nationally) in just about everything defensively. So, we know

offensively we are going to have our work cut out for us.”

Central Florida tops C-USA in every major category, including

scoring defense (15.3 points per game), total defense (268.6 yards

per game), rushing defense (103 yards per game) and passing defense

(165.6 yards per game). The Knights have lost four of their five

games by a touchdown or less.

Southern Miss will counter with an offense that’s among the best

in C-USA. Though the Golden Eagles have senior quarterback Austin

Davis, who has broken nearly every school passing record, they’ve

leaned on a running game that’s shown impressive diversity. Desmond

Johnson, Kendrick Hardy, Jeremy Hester, Jamal Woodyard and Tracy

Lampley have all had leading roles at various points in the season,

making it difficult for opposing teams to prepare for a specific

back.

All but Hardy (shoulder) will be healthy for the Central Florida

game.

Southern Miss is back in the Top 25 for the first time since

2004 and riding a seven-game winning streak. The Golden Eagles

appear to have an easy road to the C-USA championship game – their

final three opponents have a combined record of 7-20.

But Fedora is confident his team isn’t getting ahead of

itself.

”Our guys understand that none of that matters,” Fedora said.

”There have been plenty of teams that have been ranked in the

polls that aren’t in them anymore. It’s about doing what we do week

in and week out and preparing the same way for every game. Then, at

the end, let’s see where we are.”

UCF coach George O’Leary said Southern Miss is unique because of

its quick offensive pace. The Golden Eagles’ no-huddle offense

means there’s little time to adjust between plays, and the

objective is to get the other team out of position. O’Leary said

his veteran defense should be prepared, especially since the two

teams are division rivals that play every season.

”That’s where the pressure will be on the defense,” O’Leary

said. ”To get lined up quickly, to know the calls and to make sure

they know they’re responsibilities.”

The Knights are clinging to the possibility of still winning the

Eastern Division, but a loss to Southern Miss would eliminate them

from contention.

”We’re still not out of it,” UCF defensive tackle Victor Gray

said. ”We have to understand and grasp that concept that we’ve got

to go out and play as hard as we’ve ever played while we’ve been at

UCF… Things can still happen for us and still go in our favor –

we’ve just got to prepare hard.”

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