Throughout the past four seasons, if Southern Miss was running the ball, you knew who was going to be carrying it-the Golden Eagles' all-time leading rusher, Damion Fletcher.
This season, with Fletcher gone, Southern Miss is trying to establish a solid committee at the running back position.
After two games, there are three Golden Eagle backs that have at least 17 carries on the year-Kendrick Hardy (20), V.J. Floyd (17) and Desmond Johnson (17). Jeremy Hester has also shown he can be a weapon, averaging 4.8 yards per rush, more than either of his three aforementioned teammates.
"We went into the (Prairie View A&M) game saying all four of our running backs were going to play," Southern Miss coach Larry Fedora said. "We wanted to make sure that Hardy and Hester got some reps. Again, we are going with the theory that we are going to need all four of these guys this season and we don't want to run into what we did the last couple of years so we are playing a lot of guys right now."
In the first game against South Carolina, the Golden Eagles used only two backs, and they struggled to gain yards on the ground, finishing with only 67 and a big loss.
Last week against FCS foe Prairie View A&M, the Golden Eagles used all four and finished with 253 yards. A repeat performance is probably too much to expect going against Kansas this week, but Southern Miss should be running with confidence, more than it had in Week 1.
Fedora expects continued improvement from the Golden Eagles offensive line, which has four new starters this season. It might be a bit slower than some fans expected.
Said Fedora: "We have rolled a lot of guys out there because we want them all to be ready. Those guys are getting just a little bit better, but any time you are rolling guys you are not going to have the continuity you want to have and that has bit us a few times."
• Playing on national television certainly has its perks. But it also can create some minor obstacles. This week's game is Southern Miss' second appearance on ESPN in three weeks. It also means that the team is playing on a different day for the third straight week-Week 1 was Thursday; Week 2 was Saturday and this week's game is Friday.
Said Golden Eagles coach Larry Fedora: "It is difficult on the players … We met early this morning with them and we will go out to practice this afternoon, but all of them have classes today, so just finding a window for the team to practice will be difficult because we will have guys in and out of practice."
• The man running the offense for Southern Miss last season will be trying to beat the Golden Eagles this week. That man: Darrell Wyatt. Last year he was the Golden Eagles offensive coordinator. This year, he's the co-offensive coordinator at Kansas.
• Watching this game might result in a lot of repetition. Both schools run the same offense. One Southern Miss coach said the teams look the same on film.
Series History: Kansas leads Southern Miss 1-0 (last meeting, 2009, 35-28 Kansas).
Scouting The Offense: Southern Miss' offense seemed to gain some confidence in beating up on an FCS team last week. Standout receiver DeAndre Brown is back and he will probably need another good game, like he turned in last year versus Kansas. But the Golden Eagles have to establish the run.
Scouting The Defense: Kansas should look familiar, since they run the same offense as Southern Miss. Southern Miss needs to continue the ability it has shown in getting to opposing quarterbacks, which will help the green secondary against Kansas' weapons.
Quote To Note: "We improved from Game 1 to Game 2 in all three phases of the game. Now we are far from where we want to be, but we have made improvement. … But we still have a long way to go."-Southern Miss coach Larry Fedora.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
This Week 'S GAME: Kansas at Southern Miss, Sept. 17-Here's another chance for Southern Miss to get a notable win in front of a national audience. It didn't work out well against South Carolina, but Kansas seems to be a better matchup. The Jayhawks lost to an FCS team two weeks ago and only scored three points, but they upset nationally ranked Georgia Tech last week.
Keys To The Game: Southern Miss needs the type of balanced offensive performance it has been capable of in the past. The Golden Eagles need some big plays (DeAndre Brown, perhaps?) and to keep the ball away from Kansas, which seems rejuvenated after an ugly season opening loss. That means Southern Miss' four-headed monster at running back has to perform behind the developing line. And the defense needs to continue its quarterback pressure.
Players To Watch:
DE Cordarro Law-Last year the Golden Eagles defensive end led the team and ranked third in Conference USA in tackles for loss. This year he's 11th on the team so far, having been credited for only 0.5. A breakout game could help Southern Miss get a rare win versus the Big 12.
LB Martez Smith-A leader in the Southern Miss defense will be key in stopping Kansas, a team that opened up its playbook last week an now has some heavy momentum.
QB Austin Davis-Kansas' defense ranks 23rd nationally, but that might be more about who the Jayhawks have played, not their roster. Davis, a proven passer, can put that ranking to the test. With some clutch throws and no turnovers, he can help the Golden Eagles win.
• Wideouts Kelvin Bolden, Johdrick Morris and Quintin Pierce, and running back Tracy Lampley did not play last week but are expected to practice this week.
• Running back V.J. Floyd did not play in the second half last week after re-aggravating an ankle injury. He will probably play this week.