Southern Miss defensive back Deron Wilson summed up his unit's impressive performance Friday night with three punchy sentences.
"We played with passion," he said. "We played hard. We were hungry …"
With that the Golden Eagles' strong defensive identity returned. Enigmatic Kansas was no match. Southern Miss won, 31-16, in Hattiesburg, Miss.
The Golden Eagles' defense struggled at the end of last season, and those struggles seemed to continue when Southern Miss gave up more than 400 yards to South Carolina in the 2010 season opener.
"I am very proud of the way the defense played because obviously they have had a lot of criticism," Southern Miss coach Larry Fedora said. "But they have heard it and the coaches have heard it and they stepped up (Friday) and really played well."
Southern Miss' vaunted front seven racked up 10 tackles for loss, including four sacks. It was contagious. Eleven Golden Eagles collected tackles for loss against the Jayhawks.
Said quarterback Austin Davis: "They were swarming the ball really well and we are going to need them to do that down the road. So it was really encouraging. I don't have any questions about those guys. They are working hard."
The Golden Eagles held Kansas to 274 total yards and allowed only a 37-yard field goal in the first half. That sounds impressive, but loses a bit of luster with some context. Kansas, coming into the game, ranked 97th nationally in total offense. The Jayhawks opened the season with a 6-3 loss to FCS team North Dakota State.
Still, the defense showed a lot of promise, bringing back memories of the old Southern Miss defenses known as the "Nasty Bunch."
Wilson, who returned a blocked punt for a touchdown, kept the performance in perspective.
"We played hard and nasty," he said. "But we have to do in on a consistent basis to be compare ourselves to those guys."
• Southern Miss is one of the most consistent non-automatic BCS qualifying teams in the nation. With Friday's win the Golden Eagles moved to 5-2 versus BCS squads since 2001. Southern Miss has won three in a row at home-against Virginia, North Carolina State and Kansas.
• In the second quarter Friday, Tim Green blocked a punt that Deron Wilson returned for a touchdown-the first time that happened for Southern Miss since 2006. It also marked the second straight game in which the Golden Eagles blocked a punt.
• Darrell Wyatt, the former offensive coordinator for Southern Miss and now an assistant for Kansas, couldn't help the Jayhawks match his former team's numbers. Wyatt was at Southern Miss for two seasons.
Game Ball Goes To: QB Austin Davis-Southern Miss played what might be its most complete game in coach Larry Fedora's era. So the game ball had to go to a player that did a lot. Davis was an efficient 19 of 24 for 155 yards, spreading the ball to nine receivers. He also ran for 65 yards on nine carries and a score.
Keep An Eye On: WR DeAndre Brown-It has been an up-and-down season for the talented receiver. He followed a disappointing Week 1 performance with a five catch, 100-yard performance. Then, this week, Brown caught only three balls for 34 yards.
Quote To Note: "We played some good games in the past, but I did think tonight was a complete game on offense, defense and special teams. I think we played as a team more than we ever have. It was encouraging because this was a big game for us."-Southern Miss quarterback Austin Davis.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
Looking Good: For the first time in four years the Golden Eagles are splitting running duties. It seems to be working. For the second straight week Southern Miss gained more than 200 yards on the ground.
Still Needs Work: Maybe this is picking nits, but as well as Southern Miss' defense played, it didn't force a turnover. That's only the third time that has happened in coach Larry Fedora's tenure, so this shouldn't be a problem. But the Golden Eagles will need turnovers to help win those Conference USA shootouts.