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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