The Rival Review

This week: Southern Miss
Record: 3-3 (3-0 in C-USA)
Interesting Fact: USF lost 41-7 in 2000 at Southern Miss.

Southern Miss enters Saturday’s game against USF with a 3-3 overall record, all three wins coming in conference play. An ambitious non-conference schedule meant three losses for USM against Alabama, Nebraska and California. However, the Golden Eagles have won when it matters most, posting victories against Memphis, Cincinnati and UAB. The Bulls have faced Southern Miss twice in team history, losing 41-7 in Hattiesburg, Miss., in 2001 and winning a 16-13 thriller at Raymond James Stadium last season.

Any problems that USM has had this season start with the offense. The Golden Eagles are only averaging 13.5 points per game, and a Conference-USA low of just less than 280 yards of total offense. USM will feature multiple sets on offense, most often a single-back or shotgun set, but this is a run-first offense.

After Derrick Nix, possibly the best running back C-USA has ever seen, retired last season due to a life-threatening kidney problem, the Golden Eagles knew there would be questions at running back. Junior running backs Tim Blackwell and James Walley, although fast and talented, haven’t gotten the job done for the Golden Eagles yet this season. Overall, USM is only averaging 92.7 yards per game rushing. To make matters worse, Blackwell, the team’s leading rusher, has been suspended for Saturday’s game for violating team rules.

Micky D’Angelo, the starting quarterback to open the season, was decent in the team’s first three games, but was knocked out with a concussion against Nebraska and missed the next three games. He should be ready to play Saturday, but coach Jeff Bower hasn’t named a starting quarterback. Among the candidates to play at quarterback are backup Dustin Almond, who has looked downright lost under center–including posting an abysmal 4-for-24 passing game against the Cornhuskers–and true freshman Damion Carter, who adds more of a running threat.

The Golden Eagles have looked good on defense at times, a tradition of Bower’s Southern Miss teams. The defense will look similar to TCU’s, with multiple sets of linebackers and defensive linemen and lots of blitzing. Senior linebacker Rod Davis, a Butkus Award candidate and possibly the best middle linebacker in the nation, leads the Golden Eagles’ defense with 77 tackles. Another disruptive force, junior Michael Boley, flanks Davis at linebacker. The secondary has been outstanding, yielding a conference-low 140 passing yards a game. Greg Brooks, a lockdown cornerback and Etric Pruitt, a hard-hitting, ball-hawking, disruptive force at safety, will lead a group of defensive backs that is fast, active and highly effective.

Compiled by Oracle correspondent Jason Davis.