Know the Enemy: Southern Miss

From online columnist Paul Letlow

Bowl eligibility is at stake for Southern Miss this week.

The Golden Eagles (5-6, 3-4 Sun Belt) need a win to make the six required to bowl for the first time since 2019. ULM (4-7, 3-4 Sun Belt) is in the way. a hungry side looking to end their regular season on a positive note at home and reach the five-win plateau.

“We have a big fight this week against a really good opponent who is very similar to us,” said Will Hall, Southern Miss sophomore coach. “If you could change a possession in like three or four games, they would have a great record like us. They are growing as we are in the second year of their program so it is a great opportunity for us and we are grateful for this opportunity. We look forward to going there.”

The Golden Eagles and Warhawks will play their seventh and first time as fellow members of the Sun Belt Conference on Saturday (4 p.m. kick-off). Southern Miss leads the series 4-2; However, ULM won 21-20 in 2018 when the teams last met.

“Southern Miss, you can look at their schedule and they’ve won some close games and lost some close games,” said ULM coach Terry Bowden. “They played Troy about the same way we did. You see some of the other teams they played against; their losses were tough losses too. I’ve known Will Hall for a long time and he’s going to flip that program. They’re in same narrow win and narrow loss period as us.”

Six games this season have been decided by seven points or fewer and Southern Miss is 3-3 in those contests. Southern Miss is trying to end a three-game losing streak after losing 27-20 to South Alabama last week.

“When we came here, everyone was like, ‘Coach, how fast do you want to win a championship?'” Hall said. “The first step for us as a program is to play 12 important games again. We haven’t done that here for a long time and now we have. We’re in game 12, and game 11 was important, game 10 was important, game 9 was important, and that 12th game sure is important. This is a big step forward in our program to get to game 12 and for this game to matter. It’s huge for us and obviously we’re looking forward to that point, but we have to get over that hump and win. We have to do this for our fan base, for the administration and for these seniors. Is it the be-all and end-all? no We still have a long way to go go anyway. We have to recruit, develop and keep going, but we have to get this done.

In 11 games, Southern Miss averages 24.7 points and 322 yards. The Golden Eagles pass for 211.5 yards and rush for 110.5 per game. Hall expects resistance and deception from the ULM defense.

“They line up everywhere,” Hall said of ULM’s defense. “Coach (Vic) Koenning is one of the greatest defensive coordinators of all time in the history of football. He’s been around for ages. I know him and go way back with him. I have a lot of respect for him. They try to create chaos everywhere and Disturbances so they’re going to give us a lot of different looks. We have to protect the football and go there and do what we’re supposed to do.”

Wide receiver Jason Brownlee gives Southern Miss a high-profile goal in passing attack. The 6-foot-3, 202-pound senior leads the Golden Eagles with 51 catches for 796 yards and seven touchdowns. Brownlee’s 20 TD receptions rank fourth in school history. This year he is the school’s nominee for the Conerly Trophy, awarded annually to the best collegiate player in the state of Mississippi.

Trey Lowe III is the third starting quarterback for Southern Miss this season. Red-Shirt freshman Ty Keyes opened the year as a starter but was injured in the opening game and real freshman Zach Wilcke started the next eight games for the Golden Eagles. With two starts, Lowe has completed 45 of 87 passes for 625 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions.

Running back Frank Gore Jr. leads USM in rushing with 854 yards and six touchdowns on 183 attempts. The sophomore is the son of longtime NFL running back Frank Gore.

Gore’s six 100-yard rushing games rank him 13th in school history. During his career, Gore Jr. has rushed for 2,363 yards on 483 carries for 4.9 yards per attempt and 13 rushing touchdowns.

Nine different offensive players have started at least once this season, including Tykeem Doss and Gerquan Scott, who have each started in all 11 games. The Golden Eagles have used four different line combinations on offense this year. Scott, a staple of the lineup, led his consecutive starting streak to 27 for the Golden Eagles last week.

The Southern Miss’s defense allows for 24.7 points (ranked 51st nationally) and 380.1 yards per contest. The Golden Eagles have recorded 35 sacks, 16 interceptions and recovered four fumbles.

Senior linebacker Dominic Quewon leads the team and is second in the Sun Belt in sacks with 8.5. He also ranks 15th in the country in that category while taking the team’s lead in tackles for loss with a 9.5.

Defensive defender Malik Short has the top team with 86 tackles and ranks ninth in the Sun Belt in tackles per game. Shorts is second on the team with three interceptions, behind free safety Jay Stanley with four.

Defensive linemen Jalen Williams (45 tackles), Josh Ratcliff (35), Quentin Bivens (28) and Kristin Booth (26) have combined 88 tackles for losses for the Golden Eagles’ 19 this season.

USM kicker Briggs Bourgeois has 74 points while making 15 of 16 field goal attempts and 29 of 30 PAT kicks. His longest field goal was 53 yards.

“Our fans will come to the stadium with the same opportunity to see a team trying to get one more win than last year, which you would love to do,” Bowden said. “So there is a lot to do in that regard to take another step forward.”

Warhawk Connections: Southern Miss trainer Will Hall attended Florida State Quarterback Camp as a youth. ULM’s Terry Bowden served as one of the coaches.

“I grew up in the Bowden quarterback camp since I was 12,” Hall told during the Sun Belt media days. “Then when I graduated from college, I worked there and was the quarterback instructor under him to coach the kids. We have a long history together.”

Hall and Bowden met twice as head coaches during the 2011 season. Hall won during the regular season, leading West Alabama over North Alabama 31-26, but dropped a 43-27 decision against Bowden’s team in the NCAA Division II playoffs.

Two ULM assistant coaches worked at Southern Miss, including OC/QB coach Matt Kubik, who held the same post for Southern Miss in 2020, and WR coach John Carr, who served as the school’s Director of Football Operations from 2013-2014. ULM’s Director of Football Relations Patrick McGee worked as a recruiting coordinator under former USM coach Larry Fedora.

Southern Miss Morsels: The Golden Eagles are playing their first year in the Sun Belt and are in their fourth different conference in football history after membership in the Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Association from 1931-1941, the Gulf States Conference from 1948-1951, and Conference USA from 1996-96 2021 . The program has won 29 of the last 23 seasons and has appeared in 18 bowl games during that time. … At 29, USM’s Austin Armstrong is the youngest defensive coordinator in the Football Bowl subdivision for the second straight season. … USM has achieved 65 sales points. … The Golden Eagles were outscored 272-271.