Date: Saturday September 30, 2017
Kickoff Time: 7 p.m. EST / 6 p.m. CST
Location: M. M. Roberts Stadium, Hattiesburg, MS
Line: Southern Miss -9, O/U 60
Series Record: Southern Miss leads, 6-5
Last Meeting: North Texas won last year, 29-23
Southern Miss has some of the most rabid fans in college football, and are frequently in Twitter conversation with this very site, on how their team is doing, our coverage of said team, and what they think we’re getting right or wrong about the Golden Eagles. This is a storied team that’s been playing football for 105 years, and up until a few recent dark years, they’ve been a southern mid-major power for decades. Their Wikipedia page lists nearly 100 USM alums who have gone on to play in the NFL, AFL, or AAFC.
Coming into this game with a very different history is North Texas. The Mean Green (once known as the Eagles) have been playing football for 104 years, but have never quite had the national press or recognition as Southern Miss. While USM was playing and beating teams now in the SEC and AAC, North Texas was languishing in the Sun Belt... where they won four consecutive conference titles. And lest you think UNT’s accomplishments are less than, remember the stat-line at the top of the page: Their all-time record is 6-5 in favor of Southern Miss, after North Texas beat them last year by a touchdown. With UNT’s second-string QB.
This is not to say that Southern Miss hasn’t improved or adjusted from 2016 to 2017. Quite the opposite. But North Texas has done the same and while one of these teams may have the more vocal fanbase, one team might have home field advantage, a higher-profile history, 82 more wins all-time, and Brett Favre as an alum, the match-ups between these two are FUN AS HELL. Let us discuss:
Despite the 11 all-time meetings, these two have only met five times since 1981. Since becoming conference-mates in 2013, they’ve actually split the series at 2-2, with each team taking one road game and one home game. For all Dan McCarney’s shortcomings, he beat Todd Monken in 2013 with NT winning 55-14 at Hattiesburg. USM returned the favor the next year, rolling into Denton and squeaking out a 30-20 victory.
In 2015, UNT had just fired McCarney, so it was interim coach Mike Canales at the helm in Hattiesburg, naturally getting outcoached by Monken and getting blown out 49-14. A year ago, Seth Littrell was at the helm, Mason Fine was injured, and despite an eventual 5-7 season, the Mean Green still won by six.
We hear you, USM fans. You’ve got a great school and your football team has a lot to be proud of, and we were as surprised as anyone when Southern Miss was passed over for AAC membership. But that means you’re still in C-USA, and that means dealing with North Texas.
Through three games, Southern Miss has allowed the fewest points in the conference. They’ve given up only five TD’s all season, and an average of 13.7 points a game, tying them with UTSA, currently the only undefeated team in C-USA. QB Kwadra Griggs has been solid, passing for 47 of 81 on the season for 681 yards and a 58.0% completion percentage and a 154.7 QB rating.
Griggs’ has a variety of targets on the field, top among them Korey Robertson, coming into the game with 209 yards and four TD’s. Three other players have north of 100 yards, including Ito Smith, who also happens to be the top rusher for the Golden Eagles.
In those same three games, Smith has rushed 60 times for 333 yards and two TD’s. Much like North Texas, after that the numbers start to drop off steeply, their second leading rusher, T’Rod Daniels, has 16 carries for 88 yards and a TD. Their third leading rusher is Griggs.
At 2-1, Southern Miss has wins over FCS Southern, and ULM out of the Sun Belt. And despite an overall stronger season from ULM this year, it’s hardly a marquee win for this team, and it wasn’t exactly a blowout either, ending 28-17. USM played Kentucky close, losing 24-17, but a year ago as you’ll recall, USM beat Kentucky at Kentucky, 44-35.
Jay Hopson is in year two-- just like UNT’s Seth Littrell— and while seeing these offensive explosions so far this season have been a return to form for this team, UNT is the most even matchup the Golden Eagles have seen this year. A week ago UNT hosted UAB and was favored by two touchdowns... then UAB exploded in the second half, throwing all over the Mean Green and tied the game late, before losing on a last-second field goal.
Yes, these teams have been different this season. But all that goes out the window once conference play begins.
This Mean Green squad rolled with Iowa two weeks ago, taking a lead late into the third quarter. Such a performance would seem to make them a shoo-in to dominate UAB by like eighty touchdowns, but it was not to be. UAB put up a good fight and wore the Mean Green down, exploiting weaknesses and adapting throughout the game, scoring most of their points in the second half and very nearly forcing overtime before an Evan Johnson kickoff return and a Jeffrey Wilson run put the nail in the coffin.
In our preview and recap a year ago we noticed that Jay Hopson had trouble making adjustments throughout the season (the same adjustments that kept UAB in the game last week), and USM so far this season has given up big plays here and there.
Mason Fine is already at 1,076 passing yards for the season, completing 78 of 123 passes, which means he’s completed nearly as many passes as USM’s Griggs has attempted. His 156.2 rating is in line with Griggs’, however, mostly due to a comparable completion percentage and three INT’s to Griggs’ one.
Were the struggles last week overconfidence, or was North Texas just outplayed? We’ll find out on Saturday, but the fact that UNT was still able to eke out a win gives us hope, even in the
uncertainty EXCITEMENT of conference play.
If the Mean Green defense (which has been outstanding, save for the 2nd half of the UAB game) can put a cap on Ito Smith, while not allowing USM to stop Wilson, they can make up for a sloppy second half last week, despite what turned out to be a thrilling finish. And the same holds true for Southern Miss— stop Wilson, get something going in the air, stifle Fine. It worked for SMU (and Iowa), but this Golden Eagles team just does not have the tools SMU has.
This Mean Green team needs a star receiver and they need one now, as this Golden Eagle defense will not be forgiving. Expect a lower-scoring game compared to last week, but defense or no, Littrell had Hopson’s number last year, and while USM has improved, it shouldn’t be enough.
Final Score: UNT 27, USM 17