Scanning the box score of Southern Miss' game against East Carolina is deceiving. The Golden Eagles lost almost every significant statistical category to the Pirates. But they came away with a lopsided win because of four touchdowns from the special teams or defense.
Southern Miss didn't click on offense as it has for most of the season, and its defense had some moments of uncharacteristic weakness.
That didn't matter because of all the big scoring plays.
"Our special teams made some really nice plays and some game-changing plays," Southern Miss coach Larry Fedora said. "The defense scored as much as we did on offense, basically. We got the pick and then blocked a punt. It made it tough on our defense. I think they played 49 snaps in the first half. The defense was hurting in the first half. You can't play that many snaps and expect them not to hurt."
Southern Miss' defense and special teams accounted for 28 points. The Golden Eagles offense had 20. All 21 points Southern Miss scored in the first quarter came from defense and special teams touchdowns.
Perhaps the most significant score was the Golden Eagles' first one. ECU had driven down to the Southern Miss 8-yard-line, and was on the verge of taking a 14-0 lead. But linebacker Jamie Collins picked off a pass at the 3 and ran a school-record 97 yards for a touchdown.
"We have UCF coming up this week and nothing has changed," Fedora said. "We're in the same situation we were in after the first conference game. We have put ourselves in this situation by the way we've prepared, practiced, and the way we have paid attention to detail. If we continue to do that, we'll be alright."
- All season, the Golden Eagles defense has been among the best in the country at making tackles in opponents' backfields. Last week against East Carolina, Southern Miss's defense notched 13 tackles for loss, its highest total of the season, and twice its average this season.
- How good has Southern Miss been this season? When East Carolina scored a touchdown on the first offensive series of the game, it marked the first time the Golden Eagles had trailed since Oct. 1. Less than five minutes of game clock later, Southern Miss tied the game, and never trailed again.
- For most of the past 20 years, Southern Miss has been among the most consistent winners in all of college football. But the Golden Eagles haven't had a start this hot since 1996. Southern Miss started 8-1 that year too, but lost its last two games of the year.
Keep An Eye On: RB Desmond Johnson - He was projected to be Southern Miss' starting running back this season, but missed most of the year with a knee injury. After a long rehab, he should be back, and fresher than most backs at this point this season.
Looking Good: Southern Miss has had fast starts all season. Against East Carolina, the Golden Eagles scored a season-high 21-first quarter points, but none of those came from the offense. Southern Miss has outscored teams 96-44 in the first quarter this season.
Still Needs Work: Coming into the East Carolina game, Southern Miss' pass defense was among the nation's best. The Golden Eagles surrendered an average of 202 passing yards per game, and never gave up more than 275. But the Pirates hit the Golden Eagles for 309 yards and two touchdowns. If Southern Miss ends up playing Houston in the league championship game, there may need to be tweaks made.
Quote To Note: "We forced some turnovers, but we didn't take advantage of all the opportunities we had to force more, but we made some plays. That's what we've done all year long. Our defense had their backs against the wall and we had guys step up and make plays." - Southern Miss coach Larry Fedora.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
- LB Jamie Collins has returned interceptions for touchdowns in two consecutive years against East Carolina.
- DB Reggie Hunt blocked a punt against ECU, the second time he has blocked a punt in his career.
- Quarterback Austin Davis now has 71 touchdown passes for his career, moving into 11th place all time in Conference USA history.
- RB Desmond Johnson returned to the lineup for the first time since the season opener after sustaining a knee injury.