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2023 Week 2 Game Preview: Southern Miss Golden Eagles @ Florida State Seminoles

It’s the long-awaited rematch of the 2017 Independence Bowl. But this time, Florida State is #4 in the country.

NCAA Football: Independence Bowl-Southern Mississippi vs Florida State Justin Ford-USA TODAY Sports

Game notes

  • Time and date: Saturday, September 9 at 8:30 p.m. ET
  • Network: ACC Network
  • Location: Doak Campbell Stadium — Tallahassee, FL
  • Spread: Florida State (-31)
  • Over/under: 53
  • All-time series: Florida State leads, 14-8-1
  • Last meeting: Florida State 42, Southern Miss 13 — December 27, 2017 (Independence Bowl)
  • Current streak: Florida State, 2 (1996-17)

Setting the scene

Florida State and Southern Miss have intersected paths quite often throughout the course of history. Southern Miss originally had the upper hand in the series, winning six of the first eight meetings between 1952 and 1961. But Florida State coasted to numerous dominant victories during the 1970s and 1980s.

In 1989, Southern Miss quarterback Brett Favre led a stunning upset over the No. 6 Seminoles to open the season, which is the Golden Eagles’ most recent victory in the series. Since that shocker in Jacksonville, the teams have only settled it on the gridiron twice — one meeting being the 2017 Independence Bowl.

Speaking of 2017, the Seminoles currently boast their highest ranking since the opening week of that season. Florida State is positioned at No. 4 after a second half domination over LSU last Sunday in neutral site action. Challenging the ACC favorites are the Golden Eagles, who boast a 1-0 record and have progressed linearly under third-year head coach Will Hall — who served on Florida State head coach Mike Norvell’s staff at Memphis.

Southern Miss Golden Eagles outlook

Southern Miss is off to a 1-0 start after pushing past Alcorn State of the FCS in 48-14 fashion. It was a strong all-around showing by the Golden Eagles, which even had time for experimentation after entering the fourth quarter with a 30-point advantage.

The Golden Eagles finished 7-6 last season, defeated an eventual top 10 team in Tulane, and secured their first bowl win since 2016 — yet there was still significant room for improvement. Quarterback play was not a forte of the program in 2022 and four quarterbacks rotated in and out of the lineup throughout the season. At times, Southern Miss played without a quarterback and relied on running back Frank Gore Jr. to lead the offense from the wildcat formation.

NCAA Football: LendingTree Bowl-Rice vs Southern Mississippi
Southern Miss utilized running back Frank Gore Jr. in the wildcat quite frequently last year. Gore threw three touchdown passes and 179 yards on just seven completions.
Robert McDuffie-USA TODAY Sports

But the need for a chief signal caller was addressed in the transfer portal, and Southern Miss brought in former Clemson walk-on Billy Wiles and Houston reserve Holman Edwards. Wiles won the starting job and looked sharp in his first substantial collegiate action. He completed 21-of-28 passes for 267 yards and a trio of touchdowns. Yardage-wise, that would have been the second-best performance by a Southern Miss quarterback last year, and touchdown-wise, it would have tied for first.

While Wiles doesn’t have the luxury of wide receiver Jason Brownlee, an undrafted free agent who made the New York Jets’ 53-man roster, there are other promising options he has at his disposal. The speedy and slippery Jakarius Caston looks to take on the No. 1 receiver role this year after 104 yards and a touchdown on five receptions Saturday. Latreal Jones and Ti Mims are other established talents capable of boasting an aerial attack which hasn’t seen a 1,300-yard passer or 1,000-yard receiver since 2019.

The run game is typically the MO of Southern Miss’ offense and the team operates with potential future NFL talent in Frank Gore Jr. With that name, it’s clear he comes from NFL pedigree, and Gore himself carries his father’s legacy when the ball is in his hands. Last December, he reset the bowl record for 329 rushing yards against Rice in the LendingTree Bowl — averaging roughly 16 yards per carry in the historic showing. Gore wasn’t too heavily utilized during Southern Miss’ experimental game one, but he has stronger support in the backfield this year with Memphis transfer Rodrigues Clark serving as a second fiddle.

While the skill positions look sharp, there are concerns moving forward. Southern Miss surrendered four sacks to FCS competition last weekend while obtaining zero sacks as a defense. Losing battles in the trenches against Alcorn State could lead to unwanted outcomes when operating against the likes of Jared Verse, Braden Fiske, and a stout Florida State defensive line. Gaining that push in the run game is essential, because in a comparable matchup against Alabama in 2021, Gore was limited to seven yards on nine carries — a factor which essentially cut off the Golden Eagles’ offense in a 63-14 decision.

Southern Miss remains in search of a chief pass rusher due to Dominic Quewon’s eligibility expiring this offseason and Averie Habas missing the entirety of 2023 with a medical condition. The Golden Eagles will look toward their outside linebackers to replicate some of that lost production. Swayze Bozeman and Jalil Clemons are longtime veterans to the sport, looking to bolster the run defense after allowing 6.3 yards per carry in the opener.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: SEP 17 Northwestern State at Southern Miss
Swayze Bozeman is a veteran contributor to Southern Miss’ defense, first playing a major role in 2019. He has 136 career tackles and 6.5 career sacks.
Photo by Bobby McDuffie/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The run defense was Southern Miss’ strength in 2022, but this year, the secondary appears to be the most polished unit. The Golden Eagles brought in transfers MJ Daniels and Ques McNeal to start at cornerback, and they’ll be pitted against one of the nation’s premier receiving tandems. Height is important against Florida State’s receivers and Daniels possesses that attribute at 6’3”. But the most important defender in the secondary is ballhawk Jay Stanley. The 2022 all-conference selection led the Sun Belt in interceptions with five last year, and he already has two to his name in 2023. He put his body on the line for a pair of athletic, acrobatic interceptions in the opener, and no ball truly seems out of his reach when playing zone coverage.

Florida State Seminoles outlook

Florida State might have the most authoritative 1-0 record in America. Pitted against an LSU team with eyes set on a second-straight SEC West title, the Seminoles emerged in an obliteration. Florida State posted 31 unanswered points coming out of halftime, demonstrating dominant play on both sides of the ball to put away LSU in Orlando.

Now, the expectations are suddenly sky-high in Mike Norvell’s fourth-year at the helm. Florida State hasn’t hosted a game with this high of a ranking beside its name since 2016. The Seminoles hope to sustain the momentum as they gates of Doak Campbell Stadium to a buzzing crowd decked in garnet and gold.

Florida State’s offense starts with fourth-year starting quarterback Jordan Travis. As long as the Seminoles remain near the top of the rankings, Travis’ name should be reiterated frequently in Heisman Trophy conversations throughout the year. That’s a testament to how far the dual-threat quarterback has come since first taking the reins of the offense in 2020. Travis saw a significant breakthrough season last fall, and based on his showing against LSU, this senior campaign may be even more special. He passed for 342 yards and four touchdowns against the Tigers, adding 38 yards and a touchdown as a runner.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: SEP 03 Camping World Kickoff - LSU vs Florida State
Sunday featured Jordan Travis’ first 4-touchdown performance through the air in six years with the Seminoles.
Photo by Joe Robbins/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Travis potentially found a new favorite target last Sunday night. Michigan State transfer Keon Coleman pieced together an opener for the ages. The 6’4” wide receiver recorded a hat trick of touchdowns, securing nine receptions for 122 yards in the victory. His high-pointing ability and break-tackle ability were equally on display in the rout, and Southern Miss is dealing with an incredibly physical receiver in No. 4. But Coleman is three inches shorter than Florida State’s tallest target. Johnny Wilson stands at 6’7” and added seven receptions for 104 yards to the mix. At his size mismatches are easy to expose, but not only does he thrive on jump balls — he’s a reputable downfield blocker.

Wilson will provide plenty of assistance to a running game which rotates between a trio of backs. Trey Benson, Lawrance Toafili, and Rodney Hill will all see substantial action Saturday, providing different skillsets to keep Florida State’s offense balanced. The Seminoles favored the passing attack in the opener, but last year their ground game ranked 13th in the country, and a similar cast of characters returns.

One other name to watch in the offense is Jaheim Bell. The South Carolina transfer tight end is another physical specimen in Florida State’s gigantic receiving corps. The 6’3”, 239 pound junior presents impressive athleticism for the tight end position and left Week 1 with 49 receiving yards and a touchdown catch.

If the No. 4 team in the country didn’t showcase enough firepower on offense, there’s certainly plenty to offer on defense as well. Jared Verse is arguably the best pass rusher in the country. The defensive earned First Team All-American honors in 2022 for a 9-sack, 17-TFL season, and he’ll look to feast on a Southern Miss o-line which yielded four sacks in the opener. He is assisted by nose tackle Braden Fiske, a welcome addition from Western Michigan in the transfer portal who ate apart at LSU’s interior last Sunday.

The linebacking corps is comprised of plenty of experience. Inside linebacker Tatum Bethune made headlines for suplex-slamming LSU quarterback Jayden Daniels last week while generating a team-high nine tackles. Outside linebacker Kalen DeLoach is an established pass rusher and run-stopper as well, contributing to Florida State’s 4-sack effort in the opener. Stopping Frank Gore Jr. is of utmost importance to stifling Southern Miss’ offense and those two linebackers will be the key playmakers this weekend.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: SEP 03 Camping World Kickoff - LSU vs Florida State
Tatum Bethune is Florida State’s returning leader in tackles with 84 last season. He also contributed 9.5 TFLs and 3.0 sacks in 2022.
Photo by Peter Joneleit/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Renardo Green is the main name to watch in the secondary. The cornerback was responsible for Florida State’s lone interception against the Tigers and he additionally recorded four solo tackles and a pass breakup. Green likely draws the assignment of Jakarius Caston, who Southern Miss often feeds on screens with the hope of seeing broken or evaded tackles.


Florida State is looking fairly dominant at the moment, and this matchup is extremely challenging for any program in the country. LSU lost by 18 and trailed by 25 in the final minutes to the Seminoles in Orlando. This one’s in Tallahassee, the iron is hot for Florida State, and both sides of the ball exude dominance.

Southern Miss quickly needs to make adjustments on both sides of the trenches after allowing four sacks and displaying a shaky pass rush and run defense against an FCS opponent. The Golden Eagles may be contenders in a crowded Sun Belt race, especially with improved quarterback play, but it won’t show Saturday against the No. 4 team in the nation.

Prediction: Florida State 56, Southern Miss 13