In some ways, Southern Miss' bye week comes at a bad time. The Golden Eagles are as hot as any team in college football, winning consecutive blowouts thanks to an efficient and potent offense, and a defense that has a knack for making the big play. The team is gaining a whiff of national attention, as evidenced by the votes it is receiving in the polls.
In other ways, the Southern Miss bye week couldn't be more perfectly placed. Not only does it come a week ahead of what may be the Golden Eagles' biggest game of the season (against SMU), but also should allow Southern Miss some much needed mending time.
The year started slowly for Southern Miss. The Golden Eagles stumbled through their first two games, narrowly escaping Louisiana Tech, then dropping the Conference USA opener at Marshall.
"We kind of struggled at the beginning," Southern Miss quarterback Austin Davis told local media. "Everybody kind of panicked, but things calmed down and we've done well the last couple of weeks. We've got a big stretch coming up. This is a bye week so it's a good week to get healthy. We've got six big conference games coming up."
As expected, Davis has played a significant role in Southern Miss's successes. In the team's two ugly games to start the year, he had four interceptions and only two touchdown passes. Since then, Davis has 11 touchdown passes and two interceptions. He had his best game in the team's biggest early season win at Virginia.
The running game has been dominant in recent weeks, showcasing its depth. Three Southern Miss running backs - Desmond Johnson, Kendrick Hardy and Jamal Woodyard have missed significant snaps with injuries.
Kicker Danny Hrapmann, so far, has had a letdown performance after breaking out last season. Through six games this year he missed more field goals (six) than all of last season (five). Hrapmann didn't miss his first field goal last year till the Golden Eagles' seventh game.
The most glaring problem for Southern Miss this season has been turnovers. The Golden Eagles have committed more turnovers (15) than they have forced (10). Only 19 teams in the nation have a worse turnover margin this season. The Golden Eagles can't keep that up and expect to win against elite teams from the conference.
- The Golden Eagles keep getting Conference USA Player of the Week honors. After the game against Navy, two more Southern Miss players earned those accolades. QB Austin Davis was named Offensive Player of the Week, completing a school-record 21-of-23 passes for 283 yards and three touchdowns. He also ran for 75 yards. Senior defensive back Marquese Wheaton was named Special Teams Player of the Week after scoring a return touchdown for the second straight week. He scooped up a blocked field goal and ran 79 yards for a score.
- Southern Miss WR Quintin Pierce might be the most dangerous passer on the team. He has tossed five passes at Southern Miss and completed three, all for touchdowns, including one against Navy. He was a quarterback in high school.
- Senior LB Tim Green logged his first career start, against Navy. He finished with a season-high 10 tackles. Last year Green was one of three Southern Miss players shot outside a night club.
Bye Week Mission: For Southern Miss, this year's bye week is about getting its depth back at running back, fixing turnover issues that have plagued the team, and preparing for what is likely the most difficult league game it faces-SMU. Freshman RB Jamal Woodyard should return after the bye, but the status of fellow RBs Kendrick Hardy and Desmond Johnson is worse. Fedora confirmed that both will likely miss the remainder of the season.
Looking Ahead: Scanning the Southern Miss schedule for the second half of the year makes it easy to see a path to the Conference USA title game. The Golden Eagles' two toughest games appear to be against SMU and Central Florida, both of those are at home. Southern Miss doesn't play Houston, the league team that has been ranked. One major issue could derail Southern Miss: turnovers. Only 19 teams in the country have a worse turnover margin than Southern Miss.
Quote To Note: "It's definitely a big win, but the big test is ahead of us. This is definitely a humbling win. We came out and won against a very good offensive opponent. We're excited for the win. You probably can't tell, but we're pretty excited. We still have conference games that we're looking forward to playing to get to the goal we want this year." - Southern Miss LB Ronnie Thornton, on the win against Navy.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
Scouting The Offense: Halfway through the season, the Golden Eagles are showing exquisite balance. Southern Miss averages 475 yards per game, and that production is split almost evenly between running and passing. The Golden Eagles are good enough in either area that it almost doesn't matter if opposing teams render them one-dimensional. Southern Miss QB Austin Davis carried the team to victory against Virginia, a team that stuffed the Golden Eagles' running game. Davis is the key to Southern Miss's season.
Scouting The Defense: Few teams in the country are better at making plays in the opponent's backfield. DEs Cordarro Law and Jamie Collins ranked among the top 20 in the country in tackles for loss. The defensive backfield has created the bulk of turnovers, as Southern Miss ranks 14th nationally in interceptions.