Game time: Saturday, Nov. 12th, 3:30pm ET
Location: Foreman Field, Norfolk, Virginia
Television: American Sports Network
Series Record: Southern Miss 1-0 (56-31 in 2015)
Odds: Southern Miss -2 (o/u 64.8)
This season began with people talking about Southern Mississippi's probable repeat as the West Division champion of Conference USA.
As for the Old Dominion Monarchs, well, that was that nice little team from up the road and for mercy’s sake wouldn’t it be fetching if the miracle of a bowl game somehow found them?
Now with the season winding down it is the Old Dominion Monarchs who are near the East Division lead while fans of Southern Miss are worried that their Golden Eagles might have a losing season.
The Monarchs have now won five of their last six while the Golden Eagles have lost three of their last four.
So, let’s look at a few elements that might be important this weekend.
The Lawry factor
Ray Lawry is back.
Since returning from an early-season ankle injury the quick-cutting, 5'10”, 204-pound Old Dominion running back has rushed 44 times for 340 yards and three touchdowns in just the last two weeks.
Lawry's return has made things easier for Old Domimion senior quarterback David Washington who has been 30/39 for 461 yards, five touchdowns and one interception in the last two games and for the season, he has a 19-to-3 touchdown-to-interception ratio.
Southern Miss four-year starting quarterback, Nick Mullens has had an inconsistent year and was injured last week against Charlotte. According to coach Jay Hopson on Monday, ”I think Nick will be okay by Friday.”
It's no secret that the Golden Eagles can move the football, the question is can they hang on to it.
Most of the turnovers have been interceptions thrown by Mullens. He is a four-year starter, an all-Conference USA selection, and he has nearly all of his offensive starters back this year. With the many common denominators it’s surprising interceptions are an issue.
There are some uncommon denominators: the coaches.
Maybe it’s time to inspect more closely their new schemes and determine if they have created more problems than they've solved.
Southern Mississippi will match Old Dominion's running attack. The Golden Eagles have an NFL-quality running back in Ito Smith who gained over 1,000 yards last season as a back-up to Jalen Richard, now with the Oakland Raiders. This season Smith already has 984 yards on the ground and another 312 as a pass receiver.
Staggers vs Addison
Allenzae Staggers is one of the most dynamic receivers in FBS with 775 yards.
Brandon Addison is one of the best defensive backs in the conference. He set a school record with five pass breakups last week and was cited by Coach Wilder as the main reason Marshall’s Chase Litton could only muster one-third of his normal passing yardage.
This is likely to be the best one-on-one battle of the game.
These teams have three common opponents, both teams defeated UTEP.
However, Old Dominion defeated UTSA 33-19 while Southern Mississippi lost 55-32 and Old Dominion ravished Charlotte 52-17 while USM lost 38-27.
Southern Miss Coach Jay Hopson
Hopson was asked how he plans to lift his Golden Eagles out of their slump. He said, "We've got to go to work. I don't know any other way to put it. Right now, we’re not making routine plays and we’re turning over the ball. That’s a recipe for getting beat.”
When asked about the demeanor of his team after losing three out of their last four games Hopson replied, “We just gotta go get a win. We gotta focus on one game. We can’t look too far down the road.”
Charlotte Coach Bobby Wilder
When speaking of ODU's win over Marshall last Saturday, Wilder said, “My favorite statistics were that we had zero turnovers and only two penalties for 10 yards. We continue to play winning football by valuing the football.”
A bowl game is near for Old Dominion and Wilder is ecstatic for the players who have worked for four years to bring the Monarchs to this point. “For four of our eight years as a program, there was no hope to compete for the postseason. Now, we have 13 seniors who finally have a chance for a bowl game!”
Turnovers will go a long way to determining the outcome of this game.
Old Dominion is one of the best in the nation in turnover margin while Southern Miss is one of the worst.
Falling behind early against Western Kentucky caused the Monarchs to abandon their running game. If Southern Mississippi can get a two-possession lead, then defending Ray Lawry might not be an issue.
However Southern Miss doesn't have an admirable history of starting fast. The Golden Eagles trailed Kentucky 35-10 at the half, Troy 17-7 after one quarter, and UTSA 28-7 also after one quarter.
Oddsmakers say the betting line for this game favors Southern Miss by two points.
AC Index (aciventura.com) also shows Southern Miss by two, but I don’t agree with either prediction.
Prediction: Old Dominion 37, Southern Miss 28