Southern Miss.-UAB Preview
After holding on - barely - to win its last contest, Southern Mississippi is in position to wrap up the Conference USA East Division.
The No. 22 Golden Eagles can secure the division title with a ninth consecutive victory overall when they try to avoid a third straight loss to host UAB on Thursday night.
Southern Miss (9-1, 5-1) moved within a victory of the school's first 10-win season since 1988 after it held off Central Florida for a 30-29 win Saturday. The Golden Eagles need a victory in either of their two remaining games to clinch the East Division and secure a spot in the Conference USA championship game for the second time.
Southern Miss lost 34-20 to Houston in the 2006 title game.
"That's been our goal all year, to win the East," coach Larry Fedora said. "We're close. We can see the light at the end of the tunnel. We're in the fourth quarter of our season, and we understand that."
Though Southern Miss has averaged 41.1 points during its eight-game winning streak, it has dropped the last two meetings with UAB (2-8, 2-5) after winning the previous nine in the series. The Golden Eagles lost 30-17 in Birmingham in 2009 and fell 50-49 in double-overtime to the Blazers last season.
The Golden Eagles dodged a major bullet last week when safety Jacorious Cotton got a hand on a two-point conversion pass by UCF's Blake Bortles to seal the win with no time remaining. Bortles had found J.J. Worton for a 25-yard touchdown pass as time expired.
Well aware of last week's close call and his team's recent struggles against UAB, Fedora knows his players must be extremely focused on the matter at hand Thursday.
"They know how important each (game) is," Fedora said. "The great thing about being in this situation is that you make the next game the biggest game of the year. And that's where we are right now."
Southern Miss senior Austin Davis ranks 25th in the nation with 2,511 passing yards and has thrown at least one TD pass in nine straight games. He went 26 of 48 for a season-high 364 yards and two TDs as the Golden Eagles racked up 519 yards against UCF.
Davis has completed 67.5 percent of his passes for 622 yards with four touchdowns in the two losses to UAB, but he's also thrown three interceptions in those games.
"They have been explosive ever since Larry Fedora has been there and they have an outstanding quarterback," UAB coach Neil Callaway said. "We just have to get ready to play. ... It's a game that we know is a challenge."
Senior Ryan Balentine caught six of Davis' passes last Saturday for a season-high 122 yards while Danny Hrapmann kicked five field goals. Bruce Johnson and Chris Briggs each caught a touchdown pass for the Golden Eagles, who have set a school record with TDs scored by 21 different players.
Five different Southern Miss players scored touchdowns in last season's loss to UAB as the teams combined for 1,046 yards.
UAB gained 464 of those, and had a season-high 601 last Saturday while avoiding a third consecutive loss by rallying for a 41-35 win at Memphis. The Blazers had totaled 27 points and 579 yards while losing their previous two games to Marshall and Houston.
Against Memphis, sophomore Jonathan Perry was 29 of 48 and set career highs with 410 yards and four touchdown passes for the Blazers, who scored the final 24 points of the game. Freshman Jamarcus Nelson caught six passes for 133 yards and two touchdowns.
UAB is looking to snap a five-game skid against ranked opponents since beating then-No. 24 UTEP 35-23 on Nov. 19, 2005.