Southern Miss has scored at least 40 points in its past five games.
That steady scoreboard production is deceiving. The Golden Eagles have lacked consistency this season, an issue that might be the reason Southern Miss doesn't get to the Conference USA championship game. And it might be tough to remedy.
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"Looking at it, things have not been consistent," Southern Miss coach Larry Fedora said. "It would be easy to fix things if the problem was consistent and say this is where we have been failing and change this and everything will be fine. But it has been one thing or another."
Penalties, mental mistakes and missed opportunities have haunted Southern Miss this season.
The Golden Eagles will need a consistent and clean performance this week to hand No. 25 Central Florida its first loss in Conference USA play.
"We are looking for weaknesses and cannot find any to be honest with you," Fedora said. "Offensively, they have scored about 40 points in each of the last five games, so they are really hitting on all cylinders there and defensively, they are basically No. 1 in the league in every category. On special teams, they are No. 1 in the league on kickoffs and kickoff returns. They have a great football team."
Southern Miss is close to Central Florida in many of those categories. Both teams rank among the top three in Conference USA in rushing offense and total defense, among other categories.
In its five straight wins, Central Florida has been more consistent.
• Central Florida is the only team in Conference USA that appears in the top-25 polls, but it hasn't sealed up the league title just yet. Southern Miss still has a chance, but the Golden Eagles will need a lot of help. Southern Miss will have to win Saturday, hope Central Florida loses another game later, and hope East Carolina drops two more conference games.
• Southern Miss kicker Daniel Hrapmann was honored again by the Lou Groza Award as one of its three Stars of the Week after notching 14 points in the Golden Eagles' win at Tulane last week. Hrapmann has more field goals (21) than any kicker in the nation. He also ranks fifth in scoring per game, averaging nearly 11 points. Groza was honored three weeks ago with the same honor.
• If you had any doubt to the relevance of Southern Miss' final three games, just look at the TV schedule. The Golden Eagles' last three games will all be televised nationally, including this week's, which was recently added to the schedule. That means kickoff will be pushed back to 7 p.m. local time. After this week, Southern Miss plays Houston and Tulsa.
Series History: Southern Miss leads the series, 4-1 (Last meeting, 2009, 26-19, Southern Miss).
Scouting The Offense: Running the ball and stopping the run are often the first two items coaches strike of their checklists of winning games. Southern Miss has the third-ranked rushing offense in Conference USA, and Central Florida has the second-ranked rush defense. The Golden Eagles need to win most of those battles to take this game. Southern Miss also needs to protect its quarterback from UCF's effective pass rush.
Scouting The Defense: Another area of strength on strength in this game will happen on third down. Few teams convert more third downs than the Knights, who do it at 52 percent. Few teams stop on third down better than Southern Miss, which allows third downs to be converted at a rate of 32 percent. Southern Miss also needs to win the turnover battle and control quarterback Jeffrey Godfrey.
Quote To Note: "To me, there is a lot of things left. First of all, you still have three games, and then there is the possibility of a bowl game. So who is to say that you cannot win 10 football games? That is the way I am looking at it, which is to finish this season with 10 wins. How many times has that been done in 100 years here?"-Southern Miss coach Larry Fedora
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
This Week'S GAME: Southern Miss at Central Florida, Nov. 13-The Golden Eagles have fallen short in the two biggest games of the year thus far, at South Carolina and versus East Carolina. Southern Miss gets another shot at league frontrunner Central Florida. If the team wants a shot at the Conference USA title, it has to win each of its final three games.
Keys To The Game: For those who enjoy physical football, this should be pleasing to the eye. Both teams are strong in the running game, on offense and defense, so the winner will win that critical area. Southern Miss needs to take advantage of Central Florida's tendency to commit turnovers. The Golden Eagles can let the Knights get to their quarterback.
Players To Watch:
RB Kendrick Hardy-Fresh off the first start of his career, Hardy will need a strong performance in all areas (running, blocking) to help the Golden Eagles pull the upset. Hardy had a pedestrian game last week, but has had multiple 100-yard rushing games this season.
QB Austin Davis-Southern Miss coach Larry Fedora wasn't happy with any offensive player last week. Davis had what may have been his worst passing performance while at Southern Miss. Davis doesn't need huge numbers this week passing, but he can contribute in the running game and needs to be clutch when throwing the ball.
DE Cordarro Law-The Golden Eagles' defensive end will have plenty of responsibility against Central Florida. QB Jeffrey Godfrey had one of the best passing days in UCF history and is a premier running threat. Law has to help limit the big plays.
• Southern Miss WR DeAndre Brown, an NFL prospect, could be back in a limited role this week after missing most of the season to a leg injury, Fedora said.
• CB C.J. Bailey is expected to return in a full role after sitting out a few games to a hamstring injury.