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Three Things We Learned From The Sun Belt - Week 7

Each team has passed the halfway point and have their own set of challenges to deal with.

NCAA Football: Old Dominion at Coastal Carolina David Yeazell-USA TODAY Sports

The last two undefeated teams in the G5 were in the Sun Belt Conference. They both went down yesterday. As each team has now played at least six games, we can safely that the league has delivered the entertainment value that we anticipated.

Louisiana’s defense came through in an important road win at Marshall that included a 37-minute lightning delay. South Alabama beat a divisional opponent as Carter Bradley set a school record. Southern Miss battled to edge out Arkansas State, and Troy beat Texas State by just a field goal. Meanwhile, Georgia Southern took out a ranked James Madison team, and Old Dominion shocked the league by spoiling Coastal Carolina’s homecoming.

After all that, these three storylines give us a good start to the second half of the Sun Belt season.

Wednesday Night Insights

Louisiana’s Wednesday 23-13 defeat of Marshall in Huntington had several intriguing components to it for both teams, who have underperformed for different reasons so far.

For example, Marshall haven’t beaten an FBS team that isn’t Notre Dame this year. If we are being honest, a large part of that has been due to quarterback play. Marshall is last in the league in passing yardage with 1,133. Henry Colombi has been underwhelming, which is why he has been sharing snaps with redshirt freshman Cam Fancher more and more. Fancher is significantly more mobile and played most of the second half. That trend could continue in the second of the season as the 3-3 Herd look to improve.

On the bright side for Marshall, running back Khalan Laborn is having one of the best seasons by a running back in recent memory - and that’s saying something. Laborn finished with 120 yards and two touchdowns on 26 carries. That makes six games in a row with 100 rushing yards or more by Laborn.

“We have a lot of things to clean up, the discipline is what we need to clean up the most,” head coach Charles Huff told over the weekend. “I’m not discouraged by anything. But this is a real league, and in this league you can’t win games by playing hard. You’ve got to play disciplined, you’ve got to execute in critical situations, and you’ve got execute on both sides of the ball.”

Through the first half of the season, Louisiana’s defense has proven themselves to be one of the nation’s best when it comes to forcing turnovers. They’re tied with USC for the FBS lead with 16 turnovers forced. That includes 11 interceptions,

Fresno State transfer quarterback quarterback Ben Wooldridge, who made his first college start in this game, would end up playing the game of his life. Wooldridge would finish with 17 completions on 29 attempts with 230 passing yards and two touchdowns. Wooldridge would also finish as the team’s leading rusher with 45 yards on ten attempts.

The win was much needed for the defending league champs who are 1-2 in league play and avoided losing four games in a row.

The SBC East Leader Is...Old Dominion?

256 rushing yards and three touchdowns was a pretty good day, a decent birthday present, for redshirt junior running back Blake Watson. That was a major part of why Ricky Rahne’s team was able to end Coastal Carolina’s nine-game winning streak on Saturday. The Monarchs are 2-0 in conference play and now have an important head-to-head victory against Coastal Carolina. Because of that, they now lead the highly competitive Sun Belt East Division.

ODU is far from an offense-only show, however.Linebacker Jason Henderson is leading the league in tackles with 89. DB Tobias Harris is tied for the league lead in passes defended with eight. DL Denzel Lowry is also contributing with 4.5 sacks on the year.

ODU was picked in the preseason media poll to finish last in the division, and ODU has had their struggle moments in non-conference play, as evidenced by their 3-3 record. As far as league competition is concerned, Ricky Rahne seems to expect the rest of their schedule to be similar to what they saw on Saturday.

“This is what you’re going to see in our conference. It’s a league full of good teams. We’ve got to be ready every week,” Rahne stated.

We’ll see if they can keep it up with a tough back half of the schedule still to play.

Southern Miss Pick Up Their First Sun Belt Win

Southern Miss fans got their money’s worth in their 20-19 homecoming win over Arkansas State. USM was down 12 points (19-7) entering the fourth quarter, but completed their largest comeback win since 2016. The Golden Eagles are now 3-3 overall and 1-1 in league play after picking up their first ever conference win as a member of the Sun Belt.

Head Coach Will Hall and his team were understandably excited about the homecoming win and Hall got candid with the media about the state of the program.

“Since I’ve gotten here, I have talked a lot about doing things the right way and building the program back the right way,” Hall stated. “I’ve talked so many times about how we’re doing so many good things that nobody sees and one day we’re going to start winning games.”

“You know man, we’re just not a complete team right now. We’re in year two and we have to fight and scratch — we lost our center for a while and then we lost [Jakarius Caston] after building a whole game plan around him — we just keep fighting... It’s not pretty and I’m going to be honest with you, it’s probably not going to be pretty for a little while around here. Everybody is going to have to understand that we have to dig in and keep battling and recruiting. It’s going to get pretty one day, but it probably won’t be pretty around here for a little while.”

The evidence of just how scrappy the team Southern Miss put out this year was all over Saturday’s win. Running back Janari Dean, who scored the go-ahead touchdown, also plays on the kickoff coverage team. He chipped one of his teeth making the tackle on the ensuing kickoff. Quarterback Jake Lange, who wears #24, replaced a rattled Zach Wilke for his first meaningful action since last November. The defense gave the offense every opportunity to do what it ultimately did.

“I saw a group of kids that just battled all week today,” Hall added. “I saw a group of kids that everything that could not go their way for three quarters went not their way. We just keep battling and that’s our culture, man. Anybody that really has Black and Gold running through them, they really enjoyed that. That was a Southern Miss win. When everything was against you and it wasn’t supposed to happen, we just kept freaking fighting and battling.”