Southern Miss leads the all-time series against Louisiana Tech 31-13. Since Terry Bradshaw arrived on campus in Ruston back in 1967, the series is a little closer (12-8 in favor of USM) and some of the contests have been extremely close. Five of Tech's losses in that span were by four points or less, including their last three in 1992, 2010, and 2011.
"We talk about geographic rivalries," said LA Tech Head Coach Skip Holtz. "With Southern Miss and the 45 previous games, there is tradition. There is history and we are only three and a half hours away. We recruit against each other. We are in the same conference. I think three of the last four games have come down to the final possession. It is a rivalry game and one we are excited to be involved with. I definitely think it is a huge rivalry."
Louisiana Tech is off to a 3-0 start in Conference USA, and while the Bulldogs may be favored in this game, they aren't taking USM lightly. Holtz knows that Southern Miss is starting to get things turned around. "Southern Miss is throwing for about 275 yards a game," he explained. "Which puts them third in our league. They are probably 90 percent pass and 10 percent run but then they come out last week and rush for 200 yards. That is where they are getting better. They lost their one dimension. Last week showed a sign that a lot of people had not seen with them being able to come out and run the football like they did. Offensively, they are very good."
Southern Miss Head Coach Todd Monken downplays the rivalry talk a little, the second year head coach sees this as a game between two improving teams that happen to be near each other on the map. I think everybody is dying for something to be called a rivalry," he admitted, but I don't know. Usually, rivalries occur when someone is in close proximity or it means something to you. What does it mean in terms of winning a conference or division when you have two good teams within proximity, recruiting and also having ties there? I think it's natural to think that could develop into a rivalry, but I don't know if it's there yet. I just think its two teams that are trying to take another step forward in year two of their program and that is what we're both doing."
Both teams are certainly improving. After winning one game in 2013, USM is 3-4 with wins over Appalachian State and North Texas. LA Tech has already won four games this season, matching their win total from a year ago.
Monken said his team is only focused on this week's game. "The only thing we need to think about," added Monken, "is what Louisiana Tech poses to us offensively, defensively and special teams. You have to be the best team on the field. That is all we have to be this week. The moment we start worrying about bowl eligibility is ridiculous. Right now it's LA Tech. They had the Northwestern game in hand but they just turned it over. If you turn it over at the wrong time, in which they did at the end, and you've already counted that win, I wouldn't even look at that. They dominated that game. They're a good football team, and they are improving. It's going to be a real challenge for us, but we've continued to play better and better as well. Not always perfect at times, but we've continued to get better."
Holtz is also not wanting to talk about bowl games or season records. LA Tech could move to 5-3 with a win and they would be one win away from bowl eligibility. "We talk about the big picture on Sunday and on Monday we are right back to game week," he said. "We talk about our record, our division, standings and now Monday is Southern Miss week. It is a 1-0 mentality and we do not talk big picture anymore during the week. The rest of the week is focusing on what we have to do here. We are trying to stay away from the big picture right now, because the big picture is not going to help us focus on what we have to do this week to go 1-0."
If the recent past is any indication, this game is a rivalry for the players. Both schools have players from both Louisiana and Mississippi on the roster and the two schools recruit against each other often. Throw in the fact that Monken coached at Tech in the past and USM assistant John Simon was a teammate of Tech assistant Tim Rattay, and you can see that there are (at the very least) some bragging rights on the line.
It's a fun game for the fans and hopefully a lot of Bulldog fans will make the trip. This game wasn't played for seventeen years (1993-2009) and now that it is a conference game, it makes for good conversation. From quarterbacks like Terry Bradshaw and Brett Favre to punters like Ray Guy and Ryan Allen, these two tradition rich programs have seen plenty of good players and they deserve a good rival.