Where: Alamodome, San Antonio, TX
When: 7 pm CST
TV: CBS Sports Network
Vegas says: UTSA -7, O/U 45.5
It's been a long season for both the Roadrunners and the Golden Eagles. The two combine for just five wins and have lost starting quarterbacks to injury. Luckily for Todd Monken and USM, Nick Mullens will return to action this week. The Roadrunners will still be without their starter Tucker Carter and their back up Blake Bogenschutz. Staff writers Jared Kalmus and Patrick McGee gathered around the digital fireplace to exchange thoughts on both programs and today's games.
Patrick: The Roadrunners were mentioned as a possible dark horse team to get the non P5 access bowl spot following their blowout win at Houston and a close loss to Arizona at home. So, what has happened to UTSA since then?
Jared: Hopefully whenever books about the birth of UTSA's program are penned we'll get a chapter about what happened this season. I've recently written about a lack of leadership on the team but injuries have been a huge plague on the team, especially at the quarterback position. Starter Tucker Carter has been dealing with various issues nearly all season and second string quarterback Blake Bogenschutz broke his wrist early in his first start. UTSA is left with a third string quarterback that lost the backup job to a true freshman in fall camp.
J: After winning just one game last season, Southern Miss has shown improvement to the tune of three wins with the potential for two more. How is Todd Monken getting this program turned around?
P: Monken had very little to work with in 2013 and most Southern Miss fans gave him a free pass despite the 1-11 record. USM fans began to think things were turning around when the Golden Eagles went on the road to North Texas and won, improving to 3-4 and showing signs of a possible run at bowl eligibility. But that encouragement has died down following Mullens' injury and the three game losing streak. I like Monken and think he is still the right guy for the job, despite the recent losing streak. These final two games in 2014 are very winnable and if Southern Miss could win both, it would certainly carry some momentum into 2015.
P: What has been the reason for UTSA's woes on offense? Roadrunners have averaged less than 10 points a game in October and November.
J: There are a few things to touch on here but the main constant has been conservative play calling. UTSA has had little success running the ball this year and attempts to stretch the field vertically have mostly failed. Knowing that UTSA struggles to hit receivers deep, defenses have been able to keep their secondary close to the line of scrimmage. The offense hasn't shown an identity all season and expected playmakers have performed marginally. UTSA's offensive line has been woeful as the 26 sacks they have allowed have played a huge factor in UTSA's dismal 27% success rate on third down conversion attempts.
J: Southern Miss is on a three game losing skid after dropping contests with LA Tech, UTEP and Marshall. What have been the biggest issues facing Southern Miss during the losing streak?
P: During this three game losing streak, it's been a variety of things that have gone wrong for Southern Miss. During the Louisiana Tech game, the run defense played great but the secondary tired down the stretch and was burned by the Bulldogs passing game in the second half. Against UTEP, the Miners scored 21 points on defensive or special teams plays. In the Marshall game, Southern Miss was simply outmanned by the Herd despite some success in the early parts of the game. In short, it hasn't been just one thing that has plagued the Eagles, it's been an assortment of things.
P: How do Roadrunner supporters feel about Larry Coker and the job he has done in San Antonio?
J: In spite of the disappointing season most Roadrunner fans are huge fans of Coker. The former national champion provided immediate legitimacy to the program and has done a remarkable job of overseeing UTSA's rise to the mid-major level of college football. Even if UTSA football somehow flames out and fails to reach its potential, UTSA fans should be grateful to Coker for his role in developing the program from scratch.
J: Nick Mullens is expected to return this week against UTSA. How huge will it be for the Golden Eagles to get their QB1 back on the field?
P: I don't think Southern Miss fans realized how important Nick Mullens was to the team until these three most recent games. The backup QB Cole Weeks turned the ball over 8 times in the 3 games he played, and two of those turnovers were returned for a touchdown. Mullens can make poor decisions at times, but overall he's a solid quarterback who continues to improve. Expect the offense to be more productive with him starting compared to the production under Weeks.
P: What players stand out for UTSA? Any potential NFL prospects?
J: If he's able to return to action this week sophomore running back Jarveon Williams should make his presence felt. Senior David Glasco is reliable rushing the ball but Williams provides a home run threat. Tight end David Morgan is UTSA's best receiving target and is a tough match up for both linebackers and safeties. UTSA's entire defensive line and its reserves are studs. The top dog and most likely Roadrunner to draw the eye of NFL scouts is senior defensive tackle Ashaad Mabry. The 6'3", 315 pound space eater is incredibly strong and shockingly agile. Free safety Triston Wade is a bonafide playmaker that is always near the ball.
J: USM is still working to recover from an awful 23 game losing streak after winning a conference championship in 2011. How did the Golden Eagles fall so low so fast?
P: This subject is discussed almost daily on Southern Miss message boards. Some put all the blame on Ellis Johnson, who was an absolute failure at USM, finishing 0-12 in his only season. Some blame former head coach Larry Fedora, who left the cupboard bare, and reportedly didn't recruit during the final months of his tenure at Southern Miss. In my opinion, it was a little bit of both. The 2012 season under Johnson was a lost year of developing talent and strength and conditioning. But a lot of the issues right now are just simply due to a lack of talent, something that can be attributed to Fedora's recruiting (or lack thereof) in his final months at USM.
P: How well does the San Antonio metro area support UTSA football as a whole? How has the poor play in 2014 affected the support from the local community?
J: San Antonio supports UTSA very well and that support grows every year. UTSA currently leads the conference in attendance and Roadrunner fans are shockingly rabid. The Roadrunners tailgate scene is impressive and helps to draw new fans into the mix. While everyone is expectedly upset about the direction of the season, I think the Roadrunners will continue to see great fan support. San Antonio is a huge football city with no team to claim for its own other than the Roadrunners. We'll see how the fan base responds to its first dose of adversity.
J: Both teams have lost their chance at bowl eligibility and may be enticed to let some of their younger athletes develop by playing some snaps in conference play. Do the Golden Eagles have any young prospects that could become known names in this conference?
P: Some young players that should be major contributors for Southern Miss in the future include running backs Ito Smith and Tez Parks and Picasso Nelson and Jomez Applewhite in the secondary. Smith ran for 125+ yards and had two touchdowns against Marshall. He's been the main guy for Southern Miss' ground game in 2014. Parks has been hurt for a good part of the season but has shown promise in the time he has played. Nelson and Applewhite are both local products from around the Hattiesburg area and I think you'll see both anchor the Golden Eagle secondary for the next few years.