USM seeking revenge, title, win No. 10 against UAB
Southern Miss can reach a milestone in wins and clinch the Conference USA East Division title with a victory at UAB Thursday night.
If that's not enough motivation, the 22nd-ranked Golden Eagles also have the revenge factor. They won the first nine meetings with the Blazers but have lost the last two, including a 50-49 defeat in double overtime last season.
''We want to get them back, not just for the game two years ago but for last year when they came in here and beat us,'' Southern Miss offensive lineman Austin Quattrochi said. ''We definitely have a chip on our shoulder coming into Thursday.''
More importantly, the Golden Eagles (9-1, 5-1 C-USA) can clinch their first division championship since 2006 with a victory either over the Blazers (2-8, 2-5) or Memphis. They've won eight straight since falling to Marshall.
It would also be just the third time that Southern Miss has reached double-digit wins and first since 1988.
''To know there's only two other teams that have (had 10 wins) in basically 100 years of football - that's pretty big,'' Golden Eagles coach Larry Fedora said. ''It's the next game for us and that's big enough because of the position we're in. It's because of what our guys have done every week in preparation and the way they have played on Saturdays.
''Now we can see the light at the end of the tunnel and the light gets brighter as we go.''
UAB seems like an easy mark for quarterback Austin Davis & Co., especially defensively. The Blazers are three-touchdown underdogs and have one of the nation's 116th-rated pass defense (out of 120 teams).
Davis can become the second league quarterback in three weeks to reach a big milestone against UAB. He needs 93 passing yards to reach 10,000 for his career, and the lowest total in his 41 starts was 102 yards last season against Tulane.
Two weeks ago, Case Keenum of West Division co-leader Houston broke the NCAA's mark for career passing yards in a 56-13 rout of the Blazers.
''I think Southern Mississippi's offense is a lot like Houston's,'' UAB coach Neil Callaway said. ''They have been explosive ever since Larry Fedora has been there and they have an outstanding quarterback.
''Defensively, they are better than Houston.''
This game seems a little more personal than the one against C-USA's other ranked team, at least for players like UAB cornerback T.J. Ballou.
The Russell, Miss., native is still miffed that Southern Miss didn't recruit him out of high school or East Mississippi Community College.
''There will be a little bit more talking and chattering with the guys,'' Ballou said. ''The Southern Miss quarterback and I were rivals through middle school and high school, and we are still rivals now. I just think it makes things chippy with a little more talking after a tackle or a shove here and there.''
Both teams are coming off tight wins. Southern Miss edged Central Florida 30-29 when it stopped a two-point conversion after giving up a touchdown on the game's final play.
UAB got its second win on Greg Franklin's 10-yard touchdown run with 1:36 in a 41-35 win over Memphis. That completed the largest fourth quarter comeback in UAB history after the Blazers trailed 35-17. That game also marked a career-best 410-yard, four-touchdown performance by quarterback Jonathan Perry.
Now, UAB is trying to ride that momentum to a much bigger win.
''We've battled with Southern Miss for the last two years, and I think that's going to be a challenge in itself,'' Blazers linebacker Lamanski Ware said. ''We don't need any extra motivation to play against them. We have so many players from Mississippi and who went to Mississippi junior colleges on our team, and they know players on Southern Miss' team.
''I think that they are going to go out, compete, and make the best of it.''