Location: M.M. Roberts Stadium – Hattiesburg, MS
Date: Saturday, September 26
Time: 1:30 PM CT
TV: Stadium Network
Records: Southern Miss 0-2 (0-1 CUSA), Tulane 1-1 (0-1 AAC)
Betting Line: Tulane -3.5; O/U 54.5
All-Time Series: Southern Miss leads 23-8
Last Meeting: Tulane 30, Southern Miss 13 (January 4, 2020)
Quick Hits: In the 32nd rendition of the Battle for the Bell this Saturday in Hattiesburg, the Green Wave and the Golden Eagles will be looking for a bounce back win after both teams experienced devastating losses last Saturday.
On Tuesday Tulane Coach Willie Fritz indicated that former Southern Miss quarterback Keon Howard will remain the starter on Saturday against the Golden Eagles for the Greenies, after looking inconsistent behind center over the first two ball games. Oxford, MS native and former Tulane commit Jack Abraham will look to build upon an impressive performance against Louisiana Tech last Saturday, where the senior threw for 264 yards and 3 touchdowns.
Southern Miss Coach Scotty Walden looked to be an upgrade over Jay Hopson in his first game leading the Golden Eagles last Saturday. While Southern Miss blew a 27-10 halftime lead in Ruston last weekend, it was pretty evident that the Golden Eagles played with more energy for their 30 year old first time head coach than they did in Week One against South Alabama.
Tulane will want to model their game plan based on their impressive bowl win against the Golden Eagles from earlier in the calendar year. While quarterback Justin McMillian is no longer the Wave’s signal caller, Jack Abraham and Co. will be sure to remember the havoc that Green Wave defensive ends Patrick Johnson and Cameron Sample wreaked on the Southern Miss offense in January. The Wave’s defense limited the Golden Eagles to zero points after the first quarter in the 2020 Armed Forces Bowl.
From Southern Miss’ Perspective:
Southern Miss played with more hunger and aggression last Saturday against Louisiana Tech with new head coach Scotty Walden at the helm. Walden, who made the jump from coaching Division III East Texas Baptist to becoming the head coach at Southern Miss in just four years, seems to have passed along some of his high octane energy to his players.
Senior quarterback Jack Abraham said after the Louisiana Tech loss that, “I thought the overall energy on the sideline was the best it’s been since I’ve been here. I went to each and every guy and told them how proud I am of them. You could really see improvement from Week 1 to Week 2. The guys are rallying around Walden...”
If Southern Miss wants to beat Tulane this Saturday and reclaim the Bell Trophy they will need Abraham to continue playing with the same consistency that the senior has shown over the first two ball games. The third year starter has looked impressive so far through the 2020 campaign. Abraham has completed 72% of his passes for 578 yards. While listed at six foot, the dynamic Abraham at times evokes a Kyler Murray style of play. Abraham’s ability to scramble, operate from deep in the pocket, and throw with dependable precision, will force Jack Curtis’ unit to keep a special eye on the quarterback throughout the game.
Abraham’s favorite target is Biloxi, MS native Tim Jones. In only two games, Jones has just under 300 receiving yards on the year and has caught two touchdown passes, one for 74 yards. While Jones got knocked out of the game against Louisiana Tech on Saturday, expect him to be ready to go against the Wave.
The Southern Miss defense is led by defensive back Malik Shorts and linebacker Swayze Bozeman. Shorts, the six foot sophomore out of Bassfield, MS, has already eclipsed his total tackle number from 2019, recording 25 tackles over the first two games of 2020. The senior Bozeman has 19 tackles on the campaign.
Look for the Southern Miss defense to try and stack the box with eight guys to stop the Wave’s robust running attack. Tulane will need quarterback Keon Howard to beat the Golden Eagles over the top in order to open up what has proven to be a vulnerable Southern Miss defensive unit. The Southern Miss defense was only able to garner three sacks and two quarterback hurries against Louisiana Tech while giving up 163 yards on the ground.
From Tulane’s Perspective:
Keon Howard will be heading back to M.M. Roberts Stadium for the first time since 2017 on the hot seat. Howard has looked unimpressive in his first two games as Tulane’s starter in 2020 after replacing Justin McMillian as the Wave’s signal caller and was almost pulled in Tulane’s last game against Navy for freshman Michael Pratt. Coach Fritz allowed Howard to finish the game against Navy, possibly costing the Wave their second victory of the season, and has indicated that he will give Howard one last chance to solidify his spot as QB1 for the Greenies.
Tulane’s most potent offensive weapon is freshman Tyjae Spears. After redshirting in 2019, the Ponchatoula, LA native has accounted for 224 out of the Wave’s 468 total yards on the ground this year. Behind Spears, Amare Jones and Cameron Carroll round out Tulane’s dependable trio of running backs that would cause a hullaballoo for almost any defense in the nation.
The Green Wave’s receivers will finally look to get on track in Hattiesburg on Saturday. Through two games only tight end Tyrick James has over 50 receiving yards on the year. While poor quarterback play has not afforded Tulane’s receivers many quality opportunities for receptions, this group has failed to take advantage of the few chances that they have been afforded to make plays with multiple drops at key junctures of the first two games.
Outside of Tulane’s running game, the teams greatest strength is Jack Curtis’ defense. While this unit played poorly in the second half against Navy last weekend, much of this may be attributed to not getting a significant opportunity to rest due to the Wave’s inability to keep possession of the ball on offense for an extended period of time. After playing great against South Alabama in the Wave’s first game, star defensive end Patrick Johnson did not play against Navy. The senior who had three tackles and two sacks against South Alabama should have a big game against Southern Miss after getting two weeks of rest.
Johnson’s linemate Cameron Sample is also a force to be reckoned with. Sample has combined for 15 tackles and two sacks through his first two games. Willie Fritz teams are notorious for forcing turnovers, which is why it is surprising that Tulane has only forced one fumble and no interceptions through the team’s first two games. Look for the Wave’s defense to make a big time statement and try to jump some routes or strip some balls from backs and receivers this Saturday.
In order for Tulane to get to 2-1 on the 2020 campaign they will have to play their first complete game of the year. While looking impressive in the second half against South Alabama and the first half against Navy, Willie Frtiz’s squad has not been unable to play a full 60 minute game with the consistency that his team’s are known for. The Wave will need to hone in and focus for a full game against Southern Miss to show that this is the year they are capable of going from a good football team to a great one before they get into the meat of their AAC schedule.
Final Thoughts: After both teams experienced heart breaking losses last Saturday, expect both ball clubs to come out guns blazing in Hattiesburg. Willie Fritz described the loss to Navy last weekend as possibly the worst of his career as a player and coach that has spanned 40 plus years. While Jack Abraham and Southern Miss are heading in the right direction, the Golden Eagles’ will have a hard time keeping up with Tulane’s high voltage pass rush and running attack. Even if Tulane is unable to once again find consistent quarterback play, their physicality and speed will be hard for Southern Miss to match up with.
Prediction: Tulane 41 - Southern Miss 14