Last year Southern Miss had arguably the best season in the rich history of its program. With one more loss, this year could be the worst.
The last time Southern Miss lost nine straight games to start a season was 1976. But that team won its final two games. Another loss this year would be the 10th in a row to start the season, setting a futility record for the school.
Perhaps the toughest part of what has been a trying season is dealing with the mental challenge all that losing brings.
"You have to try to find a way to inject that and try to adjust practice a little bit," coach Ellis Johnson said. "You can't just quit practicing because they aren't functioning well, but you have to find a way as it gets this late in the season, try to do something to pick them up a little bit physically and mentally. That's going to be the challenge. I think from executing, blocking, tackling, and all that.
Johnson said his team just didn't have the fortitude to finish last week's game, despite jumping out to a 16-0 lead at the half.
Said Johnson: "We're improving in a lot of areas, just as football players, but the confidence level and the finish was not there."
- Inconsistent play is killing Southern Miss. The Golden Eagles showed that last week against UAB. Southern Miss played well in the first half and jumped out to a 16-0 lead before slumping in the second half and losing 27-19.
"Inconsistency does worry me," Southern Miss coach Ellis Johnson said. "The biggest thing is just the confidence factor. It's hard when the players don't have anything tangible to hang their hat on, such as a few wins and the success and the fun that comes after all the drudgery it takes to practice. You have to try to find a way to inject that and try to adjust practice a little bit."
- Two running backs had big days on special teams last week, and Southern Miss will need big plays on special teams to beat a better SMU team. Jalen Richard had 106 yards on three kick returns. Jeremy Hester blocked a punt that led to a safety.
- Based on Johnson's comments earlier this week, it appears Anthony Alford should get the bulk of snaps again this week. Though don't be surprised if Southern Miss' quarterback carousel continues on some level.
Series History: Southern Miss leads SMU 3-0 (last meeting, 2011, 27-3 Southern Miss).
Scouting The Offense: The Golden Eagles simply aren't getting enough from their passing game, and it's causing the running game to short out. For several weeks, the Golden Eagles ranked next to last in passing efficiency, no matter which of their four starting quarterbacks played. One reason for that is that the receivers aren't getting separation. They have to find a way to win without that part of their attack.
Scouting The Defense: Southern Miss has dropped significantly in run defense from last year to this year. The Golden Eagles surrender an average of 206 yards per game, and much of that total each week is coming on big running plays. Said Johnson: "A lot of that is technical but a lot of it is physical too."
Quote To Note: "It will be a big time challenge, and we'll have to play a lot better than we've been playing to have a shot." - Southern Miss coach Ellis Johnson
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
This Week's Game: SMU is pushing to get bowl eligible for the fourth straight year. Southern Miss is hoping not to lose its 10th straight game to start the season. These teams have only played three times previously, and with the pending departure of SMU, don't expect them to play often in the future.
Keys To The Game: This appears to be another unfavorable matchup for Southern Miss. SMU is stout defensively, especially against the run. Southern Miss does enough itself to limit its own passing game, so the Golden Eagles could struggle more than usual on that side of the ball. The Golden Eagles have to win on defense and special teams.
Players To Watch:
QB Anthony Alford - He has completed more than 10 passes in a game just twice this season, including last week. Both times, the Golden Eagles had a chance to win, a rarity this season.
DE Jamie Collins - Collins had nine tackles against UAB, including three sacks and a forced fumble. With 20 career sacks, Collins ranks fifth on the school's all-time list.
DB Deron Wilson - Wilson is a late bloomer. He snared his first pick of the year in week 10. Last year, he didn't pick a pass until week eight, but he finished with four interceptions on the season.
- QB Chris Campbell (neck) probably will play only in an emergency situation.