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Louisiana Tech vs Southern Miss: Rivalry in Dixie Preview

A week after UNT-UTSA, can the other big rivalry in C-USA West be just as good?

NCAA Football: Texas El Paso at Southern Mississippi Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports

Date: Saturday October 21, 2017

Kickoff Time: 6:00 PM CT

Location: Ruston, LA

Stadium: Joe Aillet Stadium

Streaming: Stadium, Twitter

Series Record: Southern Miss leads 33-15

Last Meeting: 2016, Southern Miss won 39-24

Betting Line: Louisiana Tech -2.5

Over/Under: 55.5

Until last week, the rivalry between the Louisiana Tech Bulldogs and the Southern Miss Golden Eagles was easily the best in the West. But the rise of North Texas and UTSA, combined with the thriller they gave us last week, has put the Rivalry in Dixie on notice that there’s a new hate-fest in town.

Still, that doesn’t change the fact that this is one of the top rivalries in all of C-USA, and despite a slow start to the modern era, the fans (and players) are getting more and more in to the hatred.

The 2017 edition comes in midseason after being played in rivalry week the past two years. And although there’s still plenty of football to be played afterwards, this one is important for both teams. Besides bragging rights, division title hopes are also on the line. Both teams have one conference loss already, and with North Texas starting 3-0 (including a win over USM), no one else in the West has much room for error. Both teams are going to look at this as a critical game for a multitude of reasons, and both will need to bring their A-game. Hopefully, this game can live up to the standard that the UNT-UTSA game gave us last week.

Louisiana Tech Overview

NCAA Football: Louisiana Tech at Alabama-Birmingham
Teddy Veal (9)
Marvin Gentry-USA TODAY Sports

Louisiana Tech is 3-3 (1-1), and the Dawgs come out of their bye week to host USM in the Joe for their annual Red Out game. That bye week came at a good time after a heartbreaking road loss to UAB that included four injured receivers. Tech has had a chance to take a breath and make midseason adjustments while trying to get healthy. The problem is, none of the injured receivers (Alfred Smith, Rhashid Bonnette, Adrian Hardy, and Javonte Woodard) are listed on this week’s depth chart. Teddy Veal, Tech’s best receiver so far this year, is good to go, but the Bulldogs could really use a couple of those injured guys back.

Quarterback J’Mar Smith has been improving from week to week, but he’s going to need to step it up against a Golden Eagle pass defense that only surrenders 204.8 pass yards per game. Assuming the injured wide outs don’t come back, Teddy Veal and the other receivers will need to step it up, as well. Look for Marlon Watts, Kam McKnight, and Marcus Gaines to get a lot more attention. Smith has a strong arm, so if he’s given time, all he needs is one receiver to get behind the defense. Veal is electric, and McKnight’s large frame can give Smith a good target in the middle of the field.

The run game should be Tech’s biggest concern. Jarred Craft and Boston Scott have done okay, but not great. Southern Miss shut them down last year, and that can’t happen again if La Tech wants to win. The question is, can Southern Miss stop those two AND J’Mar Smith when he takes off himself?

Fortunately for the Bulldogs, the defense continues to be much better than last year. If you take away the Mississippi State game, the Bulldog defense is only giving up 20.4 points per game. They’ll give up yardage, but they’re also good at holding you to a field goal.

NCAA Football: Louisiana Tech at Alabama-Birmingham
J’Mar Smith (8)
Marvin Gentry-USA TODAY Sports

Two issues for Tech. First, senior safety Secdrick Cooper will miss the first half following a targeting penalty in the second half of the UAB game. The otherwise young secondary will need a solid first half to hold them over until Cooper can return. On the bright side, those young players have looked pretty good, especially Amik Robertson. The other issue is that the run defense hasn’t been stellar, and Ito Smith is on the other side of the ball. They’ll have to slow him down.

Tech may be 3-3, but remember that they are four points away from 5-1. We’ll see if the bye week helped them work out the kinks.

Southern Miss Overview

Ito Smith is not a human. He’s fast. He’s shifty. He’s everything you want in a running back. As Forrest Gump said, “that’s all I got to say about that.”

NCAA Football: Texas El Paso at Southern Mississippi
Keon Howard (2) and Ito Smith (25)
Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports

The bigger question is the quarterback. Namely, who’s it going to be? After Keon Howard started the Golden Eagles’ first game against Kentucky, Kwadra Griggs stepped in. He had been the starter since, but he missed the last two games with injury. Howard has since led Southern Miss to wins over UTSA and UTEP, but he wasn’t perfect and has turned the ball over a few times. So now, we have a situation where La Tech probably won’t know who the starting quarterback will be until game day, which is exactly what happened the last time they played. Both can pass and run, and pose a challenge for the Bulldog defense.

Korey Robertson is the leading receiver and has five scores, but Allenzae Staggers and Quez Watkins aren’t too shabby, either. A young Bulldog secondary will have its work cut out for it, especially in the first half where they’ll be without Cooper. Expect the Eagles to connect on a few deep shots while Cooper sits.

As for the defense, they pitched a shut out last week. Yes, it was UTEP, but you still can’t overlook the goose egg. They’ve been stingy most of the time, and the Bulldog offense will need to capitalize on every possession they can.

Game Outlook

These teams get up to play each other, so expect a hard fought game. If Southern Miss wants to win, they need to limit the turnovers and get Ito Smith going. They might also want to build a lead in the first half and go long a few times before Cooper returns. If Louisiana Tech wants to win, they need to come out swinging and not back down. They might have some new plays up their sleeve from the bye week, and they very well might need them. The offense has gone cold during long stretches in previous games, and three and outs just aren’t going to cut it against Southern Miss. The longer the ball is in Ito Smith’s hands, the fewer opportunities Tech will get offensively. They must capitalize when they can.

The two most critical things to watch: does Southern Miss turn the ball over, and can Louisiana Tech sustain drives? Those two things will have a major impact.

Tech fans better hope Skip Holtz made good use of the bye week if they want to win this one. Otherwise, Jay Hopson’s crew will be the ones celebrating.

Southern Miss 33, Louisiana Tech 27