Understanding Southern Miss

It was a game that nobody deserved to win, but Texas State did.

Southern Miss welcomed the Bobcats to Hattiesburg last week and played one of the uglier games of the first week. Texas State, in just its 13th game as a full-fledged FBS member, managed only 2.02 yards per carry, 13 first downs and 215 total yards but beat the Golden Eagles 22-15. That’s because Southern Miss was even worse on the ground (0.96 yards per rush) and turned it over six times.

And that’s how you lose your 13th straight game.


Let’s go back to the end of 2011. Southern Miss had just won its first conference championship in eight seasons and things were good. Oh sure, Larry Fedora left for North Carolina in December, but the Eagles still went on to win the Hawaii Bowl over Nevada, finishing 12-2 and No. 20 in the final AP poll. Ellis Johnson, a defensive guy with an SEC pedigree and Southern Miss ties, was brought in to succeed Fedora. How bad could things be?

Historically bad. Southern Miss became the first team to go from 12 wins in one season to zero in the next. Johnson was fired, bringing an end to one of the wildest swings in college football?

New head coach Todd Monken hopes so, though the season opener wasn’t a great start. It’s still a pretty clean slate for Monken, however. The Golden Eagles weren’t quite as bad as it seemed last year, failing to meet their expected win total by two full games. That alone means Southern Miss is a good candidate to improve in 2013.


Eagles 5-year Trajectory

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If Nebraska overlooked Wyoming last week, Southern Miss should offer a good test for the Huskers ability to avoid doing the same in week two. Unlike the Cowboys, which quite clearly had a good passing game and a very good quarterback coming into the game based on last year’s stats, the Eagles are below average in everything. As this is only week two and one game averages are useless, all of the stats below include all of 2012’s stats as well as the one game each team has played this season (FBS opponents only). Once we get a few weeks in, we’ll be able to be “2013 exclusive.”


Huskers v. Golden Eagles

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While Wyoming ended up on the right side of the graph in one category last week, Southern Miss doesn’t but the Eagles have something the Cowboys couldn’t claim — a statistical advantage in one match-up, running against the Huskers’ defense. Neither team is very good here, but the Eagles’ run game is at least closer to average than Nebraska’s run defense is. How accurate is that? It’s hard to think it’s too accurate given that Southern Miss averaged less than a yard per carry last week. Let’s put it this way: No matter what the graph says, if the Eagles are able to run the ball this week the alarm bells will start to ring early. Just like last week.

The more likely scenario when Southern Miss has the ball is for them to throw it 50 or so times again. Last year the Eagles played five different quarterbacks. Five. This year, senior Cal transfer Allan Bridgford is the guy which is an interesting move for a first year coach, choosing the player who has one year of eligibility and can’t help you down the road. But Bridgford is a big, pro-style quarterback which makes him a perfect match for Monken’s system, and the Eagles need some success now. Watch for senior wide receiver Rickey Bradley. He had seven catches for 193 yards last week while true freshman Tyre’oune Holmes had 12 catches for 96.

Nebraska’s offense should have the luxury of choosing how it wants to succeed this week. If the Huskers just want to line up and run, they probably can. If they want to work out some of the passing game kinks, that’s a slightly tougher route but far from impossible.

My strength of schedule adjustment shows that the Eagles were slightly better than the stats showed in completion percentage allowed, yards per attempt and yards per game. But what was expected to be a experienced unit, will likely start three sophomores on Saturday. Senior cornerback Deron Wilson had his streak of starting 38 straight games for the Eagles snapped last week due to an undisclosed injury and isn’t on the two-deep this week. That’s a tough loss as Wilson made the preseason Jim Thorpe Award watch list. Senior strong safety Jacorius Cotton probably would’ve been a borderline NFL prospect entering the season if he hadn’t missed most of the final six games in 2012. He isn’t on this week’s two-deep either and didn’t play against Texas State.

Also, Nebraska and Taylor Martinez did throw for 354 yards against those guys last season so maybe its academic.


Offensively, there are a lot of similarities to last week for Nebraska. This doesn’t look like a defense who has much hope of slowing down the Huskers so we’ll look to the other side of the ball for an indicator of success. With Southern Miss poised to throw the ball a lot on Saturday, Nebraska is going to have to get some more pressure on the quarterback. Bridgford isn’t nearly as elusive as Brett Smith was last week, which means the Huskers should have better success getting home, or at least to the porch which is enough to complicate matters. If they don’t, Southern Miss has the scary receivers necessary to make things interesting.


Until further notice, Nebraska needs to have some success against the run. As Wyoming showed last week, it doesn’t matter how shoddy the opponent’s run game looks coming in, the Huskers are now in prove it territory when it comes to run defense. I wouldn’t expect Nebraska to hold Southern Miss to less than a yard per carry again, statistical freak show that that was, but three yards per carry would be progress. Four yards per carry would be pushing things against this outfit.


Bo Pelini on Thursday night:

“I was very — I was concerned last night. Do I always have concerns? Yeah. I mean, I lay awake half the time thinking about different things we’re doing defensively, and the young guys on either side of the football. But you keep making progress, keep working with them, and I’m seeing the light start to come on. And that’s fun to watch.”

Pelini did say that Nebraska had its best practice of the week on Thursday.


Last week, 19 of Southern Mississippi’s 28 completions came from a battery of players — QB Bridgford and WRs Bradley and Holmes — who were playing their first game for the Golden Eagles.


Jimmy Buffett is a Southern Miss alum. He donated some boats (of course) to the university a couple of years back and the baseball team wore Buffett-inspired uniforms two years ago.


Stripe fight. That’s the only way I can describe these things. There are stripes that run from the collar to the waist, stripes on the shoulders, stripes under the sleeves, stripes on the sleeves, stripes that make the pants look like two different colors from front to back, and the never popular narrowing helmet stripe on the helmets. I do like the classic winged Waylon Jennings-like Southern Miss helmet decal and I like this even better (if not for the stupid stripe issue again):


The Eagles are a team that would look perfectly great if it just kept things simple — black jerseys, gold numbers, a classic set of pants — thanks to that strong helmet. I offer that consultation free of charge.