For the second straight week, the defense carried Southern Miss, leading the Golden Eagles to a 13-12 win over a Louisiana Tech squad hoping to make an impression for Conference USA in Ruston, La.
History suggested that this game might be a shootout if the Golden Eagles were to get the victory. Southern Miss coach Larry Fedora was 0-3 against offenses led by Tony Franklin, the Bulldogs' offensive coordinator. Franklin was in the same role for Middle Tennessee last season and helped beat the Golden Eagles 42-32.
But the Southern Miss veteran defense forced four turnovers and limited Louisiana Tech to just 47 rushing yards.
"To start off with, we're happy to have the win in this situation," Fedora said. "Two phases of our game did not play well (Saturday). Defensively, we played really well. I'm proud of the way those guys played. They flew around and made plays for us all night long. Special teams did not play well, and offensively we did not play well."
Southern Miss made plays in Louisiana Tech's backfield all night, just as it did last week against Kansas. In the past two weeks the Golden Eagles have recorded 19 tackles for loss. In its only loss of the season, Southern Miss managed only four tackles for loss against South Carolina.
The defense's three interceptions against Louisiana Tech were more than it had all season (two).
Southern Miss' offense never got into a great rhythm and still couldn't run the ball as it would have liked. The Golden Eagles didn't convert third downs well, but did make one when it counted. With just over two minutes remaining, Austin Davis hit Kelvin Bolden to convert on third-and-14.
The special teams allowed a blocked punt, Louisiana Tech's first since 2000.
Besides the defensive performance, perhaps the most positive thing for Southern Miss was grinding out a tough game.
"I told them there's no such thing as a bad win," Fedora said. "I was very proud of all the adversity we overcame. They persevered. There was never a point in the game where the defense said anything other than they were going to win this game. There was nobody with their head down on the other side of the ball. They just knew we needed to make a play and they got it."
• A big reason Southern Miss was able to win its 10th straight game against a team from Louisiana was that it forced four turnovers. The Golden Eagles had three interceptions and forced a fumble. It also marked the first time all season that Southern Miss won the turnover battle, surprising when you consider the team's 3-1 record.
• Daniel Hrapmann hasn't missed a field goal since last year's New Orleans Bowl. That's nine straight makes for the kicker who was subject to criticism last year due to inconsistent play. Said Southern Miss coach Larry Fedora: "He's still feeding off all the criticism he got last year. He's worked hard. I can't say enough good things about him."
• Converting third downs wasn't exactly problematic against Louisiana Tech, but the Golden Eagles weren't up to their typical form. They made 8 of 20 third downs, or 40 percent. Coming into the game Southern Miss ranked 13th nationally in that category, at 52 percent.
Game Ball Goes To: DE Cordarro Law-Law was certainly disruptive on Saturday. Two of his five tackles were for loss. Law had a sack that set Louisiana Tech back 11 yards, and he forced a fumble. In a game that was won by the defense, Law was a key performer.
Keep An Eye On: RB Desmond Johnson-After four years of one prominent feature back, the Golden Eagles this season opted to share the running load between as many as four running backs. But Johnson is starting to separate himself as the leader. He had 22 carries against Louisiana Tech, three times as many as the other running backs.
Quote To Note: "We got a win on the road. We put ourselves in bad situations. I'm proud of our guys for overcoming adversity."-Southern Miss coach Larry Fedora.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
Looking Good: The Golden Eagles' secondary continues to perform well. Louisiana Tech scored just one touchdown through the air, and Southern Miss nabbed three interceptions. Coming into the game, the Golden Eagles ranked 39th nationally in pass efficiency defense.
Still Needs Work: Southern Miss' running game still hasn't been able to get the job done. Though Saturday's effort was better, the Golden Eagles still averaged 3.6 yards per carry. Last year they averaged 4.6. Louisiana Tech ranked 103rd nationally in rush defense, allowing 205 yards per game, but Southern Miss was unable to take advantage.