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October 21, 2011INSIDE SLANT
Southern Miss established momentum prior to its bye last week, capping a four-game winning streak by scoring 63 points in a blowout win over Navy.
But Golden Eagles coach Larry Fedora isn't concerned about his team losing that steam.
"I haven't been in a situation where I felt the bye week affected you negatively," he said. "I really haven't. I wouldn't want it at the beginning of the year though. For us, right at the midpoint of our season, I thought it was a good situation for us with good timing."
Ultimately, Fedora said he was satisfied with his team's work during the bye week.
"We had a really good open week," he said. "I think we accomplished all of the objectives that we wanted to during the open week. One, we got some guys a little bit of rest and guys got their batteries recharged. We worked on some fundamentals and continued to build some depth in some positions. We're anxious to get back after it. I thought our guys had a great workout last night and came back with a purpose."
Perhaps the position group which benefited the most was the running backs. Southern Miss has had significant injury obstacles at running back this season. In the game before the bye, three running backs did not play.
Southern Miss will need a typically strong performance from its running game to help the Golden Eagles defeat SMU, which boasts one of the top offenses in the country. Keeping the ball away from SMU could be important.
- While Southern Miss was working through a bye week, its conference was working through a deal that made national headlines. Conference USA and the Mountain West agreed to a football merger that could begin as early as next season. Southern Miss hasn't played a current member of the Mountain West since 2008 when it lost to Boise State (then in the WAC) 24-7.
Said Fedora: "It's the only chance for Conference USA to secure one of the automatic qualifying bids. I think that is the biggest key. If you don't have that, it's going to be very difficult in the future financially."
- Thanks largely to injury, the Golden Eagles have a running back by committee. Fedora said his team doesn't have a real starter, even though Kendrick Hardy has nearly twice as many carries as the next runner. A trio of backs - Jeremy Hester, Tracy Lampley and Jamal Woodyard - each have at least 31 carries.
"They all know they are going to play," Fedora said. "We'll just take it from there. We have not sat down and said, "'This guy is our starting tailback.' We haven't talked about anything like that. We've just talked about what each guy can do and how to take advantage of it."
- Defensive back Marquese Wheaton has two return touchdowns in the past two games. Against Rice, he returned a fumble 75 yards for a score. Against Navy, he returned a blocked field goal 78 yards for a touchdown.
Series History: Southern Miss leads SMU, 2-0 (last meeting, 2008, 28-12 Southern Miss).
Scouting The Offense: With all the shootouts and high-powered offenses in Conference USA, Southern Miss's isn't the first that comes to mind. But the Golden Eagles' exquisitely balanced offense ranks second in Conference USA.
Scouting The Defense: The Golden Eagles defense is defined by its ability to make tackles in opponents? backfields. Southern Miss ranks sixth in the nation, averaging 8.33 tackles for loss per game. Defensive ends Cordarro Law and Jamie Collins each rank in among the top 20 players in the country in tackles for loss.
Quote To Note: "It's very important for us. We have to do a great job of establishing the tempo and making sure everybody understands that we want to control this game"-Southern Miss coach Larry Fedora.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
This Week's Game: SMU at Southern Miss, Oct. 22-This is a critical game for the Conference USA title hope of Southern Miss and SMU. Both teams are on the national radar, each receiving votes in the national polls. A win could help propel the Golden Eagles to the league's championship game.
Keys To The Game: Both teams have balanced offenses, but Southern Miss's strong hasn't faced a team with the passing ability SMU has. The Golden Eagles have to get to SMU quarterback J.J. McDermott. On offense, it will help Southern Miss to get its running game established early.
Players To Watch:
QB Austin Davis - The leader of Southern Miss's offense has taken care of the ball recently. In the past four games, Davis has thrown only two interceptions. He has 11 touchdowns during that time.
RB Jeremy Hester - Early in the season, he was fourth on the depth chart. But after his performance against Navy, Hester could be the starter. Getting his shot thanks to injuries, Hester ran for 118 yards on 19 carries.
DE Cordarro Law - He's used to spending time in opposing offenses' backfields. Law ranks 10th nationally in tackles for loss, and among the top 30 nationally in sacks. He is probably the most dangerous player on a formidable defensive line.