The Golden Eagles need to gain separation this week.
Southern Miss is tied for the lead in Conference USA's East Division with this week's opponent, East Carolina. Both are 3-1 in league play. As big as the game is for Southern Miss, it's East Carolina that seems to have more incentive.
Not only does the game against Southern Miss give East Carolina the chance to gain sole possession of first place in the division, it also comes as a chance to knock off a traditonal rival.
"It's big because, East Carolina, they've beaten us the last two years," Golden Eagles defensive end Cordarro Law said. "It's going to be a big game for us. It's going to get harder and harder because we've got a target on our back. We're ready for it."
Southern Miss better be ready, because East Carolina is explosive enough to upset the rolling Golden Eagles. Despite last week's win, coach Larry Fedora said his team didn't come out with the requisite energy for the UTEP game.
Could that happen again?
"Well I don't know if you can guard against it," Fedora said. " … It gets bigger and bigger as the year goes on that it has to be worth everything that you're doing. It takes tremendous commitment and discipline to be able to stay focused on the goal and not all the obstacles that are all around it. All the people patting you on the back, the people telling you there is going to be a letdown. All the things that are going to come up. It's tough to stay focused on that goal."
- Twenty-four and climbing. That's the status for Southern Miss in the latest coaches' poll. By running away from UTEP in the second half, the Golden Eagles jumped up a notch in the poll. They still aren't ranked in the Associated Press poll, but did make an appearance at the 25th spot in the BCS standings.
- The UTEP win might be forgotten by the end of the season. It wasn't a huge game, and it wasn't particularly meaningful for Southern Miss. But the victory clinched the school's 18th straight winning season. It also kept the Golden Eagles on track for their first 10-win season in 23 years.
- QB Austin Davis isn't having his best statistical season, but he is a finalist two character awards: the Lowe's Senior CLASS Award and the ARA National Sportsmanship Award. Those honors take into account classroom performance, community service and sportsmanship, among other categories.
Series History: Southern Miss leads, 26-10 (Last meeting, 2010, 44-43 East Carolina).
Scouting The Offense: Southern Miss has shown superb balance recently. Last season, the Golden Eagles were one of 10 teams to average more than 200 rushing yards and 200 passing yards per game.
The Golden Eagles are back at it, averaging 254 passing yards per game and 215 on the ground.
Scouting The Defense: Southern Miss's defense is most impressive against the pass and in making plays in its opponents' backfield. The rushing defense has allowed more yardage as the season progressed.
Quote To Note: "We didn't play the best football we've played, but we played well enough to win. I don't think anybody expects anyone to play at an extremely high level for 12 Saturdays in a row. But I was pleased with the team doing what we needed to do to win a football game."-Southern Miss coach Larry Fedora on his team's win over UTEP last week
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
This Week's Game: Southern Miss-East Carolina is a big rival, and this game is critical because the winner will have sole possession of first place in Conference USA's East Division. The Golden Eagles have lost two straight games in this series.
Keys To The Game: The game should be strength on strength when East Carolina has the ball. The Pirates rank 11th nationally in passing offense. The Golden Eagles rank 10th in passing defense. But Southern Miss wields a huge advantage when its offense is on the field. The Golden Eagles are the best running team in the league, and the Pirates are among the bottom third of the league in run defense.
Players To Watch:
QB Austin Davis - The Southern Miss senior tossed his eighth interception of the season against UTEP. That ties his season-high, which he logged as a freshman. He wasn't sharp, but he still moved up all-time Conference USA touchdown lists. More interceptions could provide a spark to East Carolina.
DE Cordarro Law - Southern Miss' leader in sacks, he notched his fifth sack of the season against UTEP. He leads the team in that category and is among the nation's top 40. East Carolina has allowed a lot of sacks this year, so Law could have a big game.
RB Jamal Woodyard - He has stepped up and didn't let the Southern Miss running game miss a beat despite several key injuries. The freshman has had consecutive weeks of at least 100 yards rushing. If the other backs get healthy this season, Southern Miss should have impressive depth at running back.