It's not even October, but Southern Miss already has reached a point this season in which the Golden Eagles will have their resilience tested.
After an unsettling win against Louisiana Tech in Week One, Southern Miss performed worse in Week Two, dropping a game to Marshall. Last year the Golden Eagles pounded the Thundering Herd, and they seemed on their way to doing it again, getting a 14-point lead early.
But troubles on the offensive line and with turnovers stalled the offense, and Marshall rallied to get a big Conference USA win.
"We'll find out what we're made of," Southern Miss quarterback Austin Davis told local media. "We'll bounce back. We've got a long season with a lot of goals. For me, I have to look at myself and figure out what I could have done better. I'll look at film. I'll figure out where I can get better to help this team win."
Southern Miss should have a bit more wiggle room this week against Southeastern Louisiana, an FCS team the Golden Eagles haven't lost to since 1954, a string of 11 straight games.
The disparity in talent and depth between the teams should give the Southern Miss offensive line a chance to gain confidence. The Golden Eagles will need it in the coming weeks if they are to keep their goals of a 10-win season and Conference USA title.
Said coach Larry Fedora: "The challenge this week is for us to execute our offense, our defense and our special teams."
- Redshirt freshman RB Jamal Woodyard's play impressed Southern Miss coach Larry Fedora. He finished with 11 carries for 54 yards, and Fedora suggested Woodyard might get more carries in the future.
"He was the bright spot," Fedora said. "He did some nice things, because they blitzed probably 75 percent of the time. He did a good job picking up his blitzes, protection wise, and he ran hard."
- Southern Miss made a significant improvement in penalties committed between Week One and Two. The Golden Eagles had 11 penalties in the first game against Louisiana Tech. In the loss to Marshall, Southern Miss committed only five turnovers. It was one of the few improvements the Golden Eagles made from Week One.
- Golden Eagles QB Austin Davis has two passes of at least 90 yards in his career. He threw a 90-yard touchdown pass to Francisco Llanos, the third-longest passing play in school history, in the loss to Marshall. Davis is also part of the longest passing play in school history, a 97-yard touchdown in 2008.
Series History: Southern Miss leads, 18-3. (Last meeting, 2006, 45-0 Southern Miss)
Scouting The Offense: Southern Miss' offense definitely has talent. Austin Davis might be the best quarterback in school history, and he has plenty of weapons. The problems through the first two weeks of the season have been mostly self-inflicted. Southern Miss committed six turnovers in the loss to Marshall, allowed five sacks and had seven dropped passes. The offensive line has been delayed in finding its chemistry.
Scouting The Defense: Southern Miss coach Larry Fedora said his defense isn't quite there yet. It's not that they've played poorly-he said their effort should have been enough to win against Marshall-but the defense hasn't been dominant. Part of the problem is creating turnovers. Last year, Southern Miss finished plus-10 in turnovers. Heading into Week Three, they are minus-2.
Quote To Note: "We'll bounce back. We've got a long season with a lot of goals." - Southern Miss QB Austin Davis, to local media outlets.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
This Week's Game: Southern Miss needs to bounce back, and Southeastern Louisiana, an FCS team, is a bounce-back opponent. The Golden Eagles have won 11-straight against the Lions. The Golden Eagles need more than just a win, they need to look sharp and roll to victory.
Keys To The Game: Southeastern Louisiana loves to move quickly on offense. In its first two games of the season, the Lions churned out more than 90 offensive plays per game. If the Golden Eagles can establish a running game and play stifling defense, they should be able to control time of possession and wear down Southeastern Louisiana's defense.
Players To Watch:
QB - Austin Davis - The Marshall loss was memorable for Davis because he passed Brett Favre in the school record book, but he also threw three interceptions and was sacked five times. Southern Miss seems to have problems with its offensive line, so Davis is going to have to learn how to operate with more pressure.
WR - Francisco Llanos - Llanos stepped up in the absence of the concussed Kelvin Bolden. He led the team with five catches, 132 yards and two touchdowns. He made some impressive moves in a 90-yard scoring reception.
RB - Kendrick Hardy - In each of the first two games, Hardy ran for 33 yards. He ran for more yards in all nine games in which he got carries last year. Expect a breakout game from last season's leading rusher.