Southern Miss limped off the field Saturday after a 49-0 smacking at the hands of in-state rival Mississippi State, but there were a few positives that can be gleaned from the Eagles' first game of 2014.
1. Nobody died. When rebuilding a once-proud football program from the ashes up, it's imperative that you keep all of your players alive. Todd Monken was able to execute this with perfection Saturday in Starkville
2. Did you not read No. 1?
There were also a few silver linings if you're into the whole participation medal thing. The defensive line, which was only able to muster 13 sacks last season, had three against a stout Mississippi State offensive line. It also looks like Southern Miss has finally found an every-down back in freshman (Judge) Ito Smith, who only scampered for 49 yards, but when compared to last season's struggles, feels like it was 149. And the defense had a goal line stand in the first quarter that showed it can stand up to bigger and more talented players.
Other than that, it was the same futility that plagued the team last year rearing its ugly head in 2014. But Monken has said he's put that game behind him (let's hope so), and now a perfect opportunity presents itself for a much-needed win in the form of Alcorn State.
The last time these two teams played, Southern Miss enjoyed pounding the Braves to the tune of 52-0 in front of a record-setting 36, 232 fans crammed inside M.M. Roberts Stadium. This year, we may be able to scratch off that first 3 and about 40 points, but the idea remains — claim a W over an FCS squad to gain some momentum and work out the kinks. And there are many.
Alcorn is coached by former USM defensive coordinator Jay Hopson, who will bring in a bruising run game that compiled 331 yards in a 55-7 opening day win over Virginia-Lynchburg behind three backs all vying for touches in the Braves' ground-and-pound system. That will be the attack Southern Miss and its strong defensive line must stop, especially with a questionable linebacking unit and spotty secondary cleaning up behind them.
This should be a game the Golden Eagles win and win convincingly, but if anything has been proven over the past two years it's that Southern Miss can lose to anyone, anywhere, anytime. Alcorn State will come into this matchup hungry for an upset, and the mood permeating throughout the locker room right now is one of reserved confidence as the Braves prepare for a clearly reeling Southern Miss team still trying to get its head above water.
The Eagles' offensive line took a beating against MSU Saturday and the much-anticipated receiving corps was put out like the Flaming Dr. Pepper shot Monken probably took one the bus ride back. The improvements fans were supposed to see against a dark-horse SEC West contender just weren't there, despite the enormous gap in size, speed and talent.
This game might be the most important one in the country this weekend and nobody even knows or cares about it. A Southern Miss win would be the school's first at home since Nov. 26, 2011, an injection of victory juice that will no doubt go a long way to rebuilding the confidence that's been shattered by 23 losses in 24 games. A loss and, well, it probably could get no worse for Southern Miss with Alabama looming in the distance.
If the Eagles can establish a run game against a smaller Alcorn State defense, and quarterback Nick Mullens is given time to make his progressions and establish himself in the pocket, Southern Miss should come out on top by double digits in The Rock.
If not, let's just hope nobody dies.