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October 24, 2011INSIDE SLANT
Few teams in the nation are hotter than Southern Miss.
A week after shredding Navy for 63 points last week, the Golden Eagles stuffed SMU's 10th-ranked offense for only three points. It was Southern Miss's best defensive performance in several years.
It was also enough to get Southern Miss ranked for the first time since 2004. The Golden Eagles came in at No. 25 in the coaches poll after their 27-3 win over the Mustangs. They had enough points in the Associated Press poll to be two slots away from getting in that top 25.
Southern Miss has won five consecutive games after ending SMU's five game winning streak. At 6-1, the Golden Eagles have twice as many wins as any other team in Conference USA's East Division. They are tied with East Carolina at 2-1 in league play.
"That's probably a good as they have played since I've been here," Southern Miss quarterback Austin Davis said of his team's defensive effort. "They've had some good games but SMU just had a really explosive offense. We thought coming into the game was that they were going to score some points."
SMU came into the game averaging nearly 34 points and churning up almost 450 yards. Southern Miss held SMU to a season-low three points and only 330 yards.
"Well, all week we were hearing about how good their offense was, how tough their running back is, how he leads the conference in rushing," Southern Miss linebacker Jeremy Snowden said. "We just had to be focused all week on defense. I felt like everyone did a good job of coming out and playing smart, fast and physical."
- Southern Miss has had four different leading rushers in seven games this season. Against SMU, it was freshman Jamal Woodyard. He ran for 116 yards on 12 carries, the first time he ran for more than 100 yards. It was the second time Woodyard led the team in rushing this season.
- This week's win moved the Golden Eagles into a first-place tie with East Carolina in the East Division of Conference USA. Both teams are 2-1 in league play. If Southern Miss wins at UTEP this week and ECU wins at home against Tulane, it will set up a critical matchup between the Golden Eagles and Pirates in two weeks at East Carolina.
- Southern Miss is one of 14 teams in the country that came into the year with a streak of nine straight bowl games. This week's win against SMU made the Golden Eagles eligible for a 10th straight postseason appearance. It also kept them on track for their first 10-win season in 23 years.
Keep An Eye On: RB Jamal Woodyard - With Southern Miss' banged-up backfield, the freshman Woodyard could get more carries in the coming weeks, in some of the Golden Eagles' most important games of the season. He is the second leading rusher for Southern Miss.
Looking Good: The Southern Miss defense had its best game of the season when it needed it most. The Golden Eagles kept SMU's high-powered offense in check. Southern Miss kept SMU to nearly 120 yards below its season average of yardage. SMU, which averages more than 300 passing yards per game, couldn't reach 200 against Southern Miss.
Still Needs Work: Southern Miss has lost at least one fumble in each game this season. Only a handful of teams in the country have lost more fumbles than the Golden Eagles have. Southern Miss has won five straight games, but it is making it more difficult than it needs to be with all the fumbles.
Quote To Note: "I'll tell you this. Our defensive has a lot of confidence right now. They're really playing well together." - Southern Miss coach Larry Fedora.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
- DB Marquese Wheaton has three return touchdowns in the past three weeks. Two weeks ago, he returned a fumble 75 yards for a score. Against Navy last week, he returned a blocked field goal 78 yards for a touchdown. This week against SMU, he returned his second interception for a 41-yard score.
Wheaton is living up to a tongue-in-cheek nickname he gave himself early this season - Big Play.
"I told (Sports Information Director) Jack Duggan during camp like, 'Hey man, let's get some interviews! I'm making plays. Call me Big Play out here,'" Wheaton said. "And he kept saying he was working on it so I guess the name just stuck."
- Jamal Woodyard, Southern Miss' freshman running back, had the first 100-yard game of his college career. He didn't play the previous week. Earlier in the season, against Southeastern Louisiana, a FCS school, he had 99 yards and a touchdown.
- Southern Miss QB Austin Davis moved into Conference USA's top 10 in two all-time passing categories, completions and yards.