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September 28, 2012Southern Miss' problems are making this group of Golden Eagles an unwitting part of the school's football history. For the first time since 1976, Southern Miss is 0-3 to start a season.
These issues are also spread so widely across the team that they have shaken the foundation of the program.
"I think when you're not performing well in so many different areas, you have to start back at the head coach's feet," said Southern Miss coach Ellis Johnson. "We've got to start back at square one and evaluate everything we're doing, from personnel to schemes to practice and just see what we can come up with and improve our football team."
It's hard to know where to start. Broadly, the Golden Eagles, Conference USA's defending champion, have been inconsistent at best. They are among the nation's worst teams statistically, raking 111th or worse in passing offense, total offense, scoring offense, rushing defense, pass-efficiency defense, scoring defense, passing efficiency and sacks allowed.
The Golden Eagles don't have a set starter at quarterback, and the defense, which has historically been a strength of the program, has underperformed.
Looking ahead is not encouraging. Starting this week, the Golden Eagles have consecutive games against nationally ranked opponents. After that, they go on the road to Central Florida, one of the best programs in the league.
- Ellis Johnson has spent his first season trying to determine a starting quarterback. This week, the decision might be easier.
"He's the healthy one of the three, and depending on what I find out when we hit the practice field, that decision could be made for me," Johnson said about QB Ricky Lloyd.
Just last week, Lloyd was on the third string. But Chris Campbell's injured neck and Anthony Alford's injured knee could keep the two more prominent starters out of action this week, boosting Lloyd to the top. He may have landed there anyway after last week's performance, in which he completed 4-of-5 passes for 72 yards and a score.
- Right now, special teams might be the best unit Southern Miss has. The Golden Eagles rank fifth nationally in kickoff returns behind the duo of Tracey Lampley and Justin Sims. P Peter Boehme has been booming more 50-plus-yard punts lately, and that will only help.
- Perhaps the most telling sign of Southern Miss' defensive struggles is what it does on third down. The Golden Eagles rank 118th in the country, allowing opposing offenses to convert 58 percent of third downs. Southern Miss simply can't get off the field.
Series History: Southern Miss leads Louisville 18-10-1 (last meeting, 2010, 31-28 Louisville).
Scouting The Offense: A lot of things have to go right for Southern Miss to beat Louisville for the first time since 1999. On offense, the Golden Eagles need a breakout performer. Southern Miss has been very little on offense, other than inconsistent.
Scouting The Defense: On paper, it seems Louisville will test the Southern Miss defense. Based on national statistical ratings, Louisville ought to be able to pass on Southern Miss, so the Golden Eagles need to take the opportunity to force some turnovers, which could keep the game close.
Quote To Note: "We've had cooperation. We've had commitment. We've had good work habits on the practice field. We've had some good performances in (the seniors). We've had some bad performances in (the seniors). Do we have great, confident, experienced leadership? That's something I think we're still trying to find." - Southern Miss coach Ellis Johnson
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
This Week's Game: Southern Miss and Louisville used to be conference rivals. It was a series that the Golden Eagles rarely lost at home. The last time they played was the 2010 postseason, but the level of success needed to get to a bowl game feels a million miles away from Hattiesburg, Miss., so far this season. Louisville, meanwhile, is 4-0 for the first time since 2006 and climbing the national rankings.
Keys To The Game: Unlike Southern Miss, Louisville has been performing consistently in most phases of the game. The Cardinals are solid all over the field. They do surrender a lot of passing yards, but have been allowing minuscule rushing yards. The problem for Southern Miss is that it hasn't exhibited a passing attack strong enough to matter in this matchup. The Golden Eagles need to create turnovers-something they haven't done-and score on special teams to pull the upset.
Players To Watch:
WR Justin Sims - The dangerous kick returner has had more opportunities because of an injury to Tracey Lampley. Sims returned four kicks for 118 yards, the best performance of his career. He should get more chances this week.
QB Ricky Lloyd - He is the healthiest of Southern Miss' three-headed quarterback, which is good for the Golden Eagles, considering he played the best last week. The offense needs a spark, and another solid performance could provide that for Southern Miss.
LB Jamie Collins - The Golden Eagles' best NFL prospect had seven tackles, two for loss and a sack last week. He's the type of player that needs to set the tone for the rest of Southern Miss' season.
- RB Tyre Bracken suffered a concussion last week and may not be available this week, according to the Hattiesburg American.
- RB Kendrick Hardy has played the past couple weeks but still seems hindered by a hamstring injury.
- LB Brandon Francesconi is also expected to be out with an unspecified injury.
- WR Chris Briggs is doubtful after leaving the WKU game.