With Louisiana Tech and Southern Miss both looking to inch closer to bowl eligibility; this game has all the makings of a back and forth, tight game. What does Southern Miss have to do in order to get the win? Do the Golden Eagles have a winning season in their sights?
1. USM has won a couple of games recently and they seem to be improving. Are the players buying in to Coach Monken and do they have a chance at bowl eligibility?
PM) I think the players have bought in to Monken since he got here in December 2012, it's just finally becoming visible to the average viewer. Monken's play calling can be a little frustrating at times (he did call a great game against UNT) but overall I think he's the right guy to lead Southern Miss in this rebuilding process. As for bowl eligibility, it still looks doubtful (in my opinion). However, a win on Saturday would increase those chances quite a bit.
2. Who are USM's go-to guys on offense?
PM) Michael Thomas, a JUCO transfer out Dodge City, KS, is probably Southern Miss' best receiving threat. He started 2014 out quietly but has been an impact player in the four most recent games. That includes 320 yards total receiving and four touchdowns. Casey Martin (transfer from Houston) leads the team in receptions and is targeted often in 3rd down situations. On the ground, Southern Miss has a couple of different options. Ito Smith and George Payne have gotten most of the carries but Jalen Richard returned from injury last week against UNT and had 100+ yards of total offense. The offense will go as far as the offensive line does and that unit has been improving steadily over the past month.
3. Do Southern Miss fans see Tech as a rival? Who are the main rivals for USM?
PM) I think the older fans definitely consider Louisiana Tech a rival. The younger fans are a little more reluctant to call Tech a rival. The schools have only played three times since 1993 so the younger generation just doesn't have many memories from this series as the older fans who watched USM and Tech duel in the 70s and 80s. That being said, almost all Southern Miss fans were beyond impressed by the LA Tech fan turnout to the game in 2011 during the tropical storm. Aside from Alcorn State, the LA Tech attendance in Hattiesburg for the 2011 game was probably the best from a visiting team in the past 8-9 years.
Who are Southern Miss' main rivals? Tough to say, as many USM fans considered Memphis and Tulane rivals, but both have left for the AAC. Louisiana Tech and Southern Miss definitely have the potential for a great rivalry, especially with the similarity between the two schools and the geographical proximity.
4. How do you see this game playing out? High scoring shootout or a defensive struggle?
PM) Southern Miss' offense is improving but I don't think they have a great shot in a shootout-type game. I think USM's best chance to win the game would be where the winning score is in the higher 20s-low 30s. Not quite a defensive battle but not exactly a shootout where the final score is something like 52-49.
5. How is the team holding up health wise? Do you expect most everyone to be available?
PM) Running back Tez Parks is hurt but the general public really doesn't know what the injury is or how long he'll be out. I'd have to think he is out for the game on Saturday, but I can't say that with 100% certainity. Other than that, Southern Miss is mostly injury free (quite a contrast from the 2013 season).