In blowing out Southeastern Louisiana last week, Southern Miss showed it could play as expected against an inferior team. This week, the Golden Eagles need to do something they haven't done yet in 2011-play as expected against a formidable peer.
Even after a shaky start to the season, Southern Miss was supposed to blow out Southeastern Louisiana, an FCS school, and it did. All the problems that plagued Southern Miss in its first two uninspiring games seemed to vanish.
"We had more consistency as a football team in all three areas," Southern Miss coach Larry Fedora said. "We played better in all three areas of the game. We didn't turn the football over. We played good, solid defense, and our special teams played well. That's why we won the football game. It's a game we should've won, and we went out and did it. That's promising."
What that actually portends won't be known till after the game against Virginia, a team that seems to have a similar composition to Southern Miss. Both teams are 2-1 and lost their conference opener. The matchups all over the field should be competitive, even though Virginia is from a superior conference.
The major concern for Southern Miss will be its offensive line up against the physically imposing defensive line of Virginia.
"They are a big football team and they look good," Fedora said. "It will be a huge challenge for our guys up front. They are going to have to bring it all and have it every snap to move the ball effectively.
The Southern Miss offensive line didn't play especially well this season until the game against Southeastern Louisiana. Whether that was a fluke, or the line waking up, remains to be seen.
One thing is for sure, the Golden Eagles are playing with more confidence.
Said Fedora regarding last week's win and how it affected confidence: "It didn't matter who was coming in. We had to focus on ourselves and get ourselves right to have a chance to beat anybody. I was proud of our guys for doing that."
- Korey Williams was named Conference USA Defensive Player of the Week for his memorable performance against Southeastern Louisiana. The linebacker had 10 tackles, including one for loss, and returned an interception 60 yards for a touchdown. He has logged an interception in two straight games.
"The word that comes to mind is consistency," Fedora said. "You know Korey is going to be there every game. He's going to do his job. He's going to show up. He's going to help lead that defense."
- The Southern Miss offensive line earned its share of critics after the first two games. But the group showed improvement, protecting QB Austin Davis against Southeastern Louisiana and leading the running attack to 335 yards. Fedora said he wants more vocal leadership from the line going forward.
- Southern Miss coach Larry Fedora has fared well in non-conference games as the Golden Eagles' coach. He's 10-7 in those games. But that includes an 0-5 record on the road against teams from automatic qualifying BCS leagues. Last year South Carolina handled the Golden Eagles at home.
Series History: Southern Miss leads, 1-0. (Only meeting, 2009, 37-34 Southern Miss).
Scouting The Offense: If the Southern Miss offensive line doesn't match up well with Virginia's huge defensive line, it could be a long day for the Golden Eagles. A strong offensive line performance should make for a competitive game and give Southern Miss a legitimate chance to leave with an upset win.
Scouting The Defense: This game pits Southern Miss's 33rd-ranked defense against the 32nd-ranked offense of Virginia. From that standpoint, it seems to be a very even matchup. Forcing turnovers will be important because both offenses will want to control the clock with the running game. Virginia has been better at creating turnovers so far this season.
Quote To Note: "This is a big game for us. We know they're going to try to run the ball on us. They're from a big conference, so we're already thinking about it now." - Southern Miss DT Terrance Pope.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
This Week's Game: This is probably Southern Miss's biggest non-conference game of the season. Virginia is the only team from an automatically qualifying BCS league on the Golden Eagles' schedule this year. Last week's rout of an FCS team developed Southern Miss's confidence. A win this week at Virginia would solidify that confidence and could propel the Golden Eagles to more big wins.
Keys To The Game: Because of the similar styles of these two teams, this game will be decided in the trenches. Southern Miss's offensive line can silence its critics with a clutch performance against an intimidating defensive line from Virginia.
Players To Watch:
LB Korey Williams - Southern Miss coach Larry Fedora lauded Williams' consistency. Williams probably needs another big game if the Golden Eagles are to pull out a minor upset over Virginia. He is on a streak of two straight games with an interception.
RB Kendrick Hardy - He's back. After rushing for 33 yards in each of Southern Miss's first two games, Hardy returned to last season's impressive form. Against Southeastern Louisiana, he had 155 yards on the ground.
OL Austin Quattrochi - Fedora said he is supposed to be the leader of the offensive line. In a key game for Southern Miss, Quattrochi needs to lead and have his best game of the year. It could go a long way for Southern Miss.
- WR Desmond Johnson missed his second straight game with a knee injury. He hurt it in the season opener.
- WR William Spight missed last week with an undisclosed injury.
- DB Jerrion Johnson missed last week for an undisclosed reason.