The Line: Marshall by 26
First Time in the Driver's Seat
After their final bye week, the Thundering Herd carries their three game winning streak against USM into Hattiesburg, Mississippi for a battle with the Golden Eagles. Even on their week off, the Herd found a way to win again, with East Carolina dropping an inexplicable game to Temple. Now the question becomes if the Herd can survive the committee's opinion of a weak schedule to get a New Year's bowl. The team could not find a better time for a bye week. The Herd have been the walking wounded recently and will be returning some key players this weekend. Wide Receiver Davonte Allen said on twitter a week ago that he should be back for this game. Also, somewhat forgotten in Devon Johnson's 274 yard, 4 touchdown performance is that he played much of the second half on a busted wheel that kept him off the field for some time.
Southern Miss is coming off a 35-14 loss to UTEP where starting quarterback Nick Mullens was stuck on the sidelines of the Sun Bowl, due to an injury from the Golden Eagles' loss to Louisiana Tech. Todd Monken said on Monday that they will take a "wait-and-see" approach with Mullens this week. Without Mullens, the Golden Eagles were still able to move the ball, but not with the same ease as when #9 is on the field.
Golden Eagles to Watch
Cole Weeks - If Mullens is unable to go, Weeks will start the game. Southern's offensive coordinator Chip Lindsey has talked about potentially reevaluating the position. On the season, Weeks is completing just over 51% of his passes for 647 yards. Weeks has also had problems with turnovers, with a 1-to-2 touchdown-to-interception ratio, which was part of the Golden Eagles problems last week. With the pass-heavy offense of Southern Miss, the quarterback has to be able to key the offense well. This will be the toughest defense Weeks will have faced (unless count his two pass attempts against Alabama), so a performance similar to last week's would be terrible for Southern Miss's chances.
Dasman McCullum - McCullum is one of C-USA's top sack men. Pair that with the fact that Bill Legg has decided to hell with an intermediate passing game and continued the running game and going deep on a regular basis, McCullum could get a chance after Cato. With some Herd offensive linemen getting dinged up during the Florida Atlantic game, the pressure for the Southern Miss defense is necessary for them to be competitive. USM will also need him if the Herd tries to stretch the running game outside with either Butler or Cato on the read option.
Casey Martin - With the uncertainty at the quarterback, the leading receiver for the Golden Eagles must be important. Martin is leading Southern with 50 receptions on the year for 501 yards and 2 touchdowns and is coming off his first 100-yard receiving game of the season against UTEP. While Martin is not the most imposing receiver, he can find holes in the defense and could take advantage if Marshall plays off the ball in their secondary.
Marshall Players to Watch
Devon Johnson - Best running back in the conference. Arguably the best player at a group of 5 school. There isn't much else to say about "Rockhead". With his huge game in the Herd's last contest, Johnson moved into 7th place in the nation in rushing. With some defensive difficulties for the Golden Eagles, look for Johnson to get his carries and go over 100 yards yet again. If he is even close to 100%, it could be bad news for the Golden Eagles.
Darryl Roberts - "Swag" is the best cornerback for the Thundering Herd. While Marshall's safeties rightfully get a heap of praise, Roberts goes somewhat unheralded. While Roberts might give up the catches, Roberts always minimizes those catches. In their last game, one of the most explosive players in the conference, Lucky Whitehead, had 11 catches for over 100 yards, but did not score a touchdown. Against Southern's pass-happy attack, he will have to minimize what the Golden Eagles can do after the catch.
Raheem Waiters - The Herd linebacker has been one of many reserve linebackers that has had to step up after Evan McKelvey's injury early this season. While Waiters, along with many other reserves, has stepped up in the linebacking corps, the most important facet of his game has been in kickoff coverage. This might seem like an unusual thing to focus on, but the Golden Eagles' Michael Thomas has the capability to shorten a field for a potent offensive attack. Marshall has to keep the field as long as possible, and Waiters keys the kick coverage.
If Nick Mullens is able to play, this could be a different game. Southern Miss has the ability to score on anyone, but if Southern isn't at full strength, I can't see any way that they can stop Marshall enough to pull the tremendous upset. The biggest thing to watch is to see how the Herd looks to respond to critics in their first game after the initial committee rankings. The Herd has done what they are supposed to do with a weak schedule, but a tight game with a 3-6 Southern Miss gives more credibility to Colorado State or Boise State. If the Herd wants to play in a major bowl game, they cannot play like they did in their game against FAU, where the defense struggled early and the offense never found any rhythm. In this game, I think Marshall has something to prove, especially after having a week of being told "they don't play anyone" by everyone from the playoff selection committee to their neighbors to the north on College Gameday. Unfortunately for the Mustard Buzzards, they are in the way of the Thundering Herd.
Marshall 45 - USM 21