Neither Southern Miss or Marshall got their offense cranked up very often on Saturday.
“It was a defensive struggle,” Southern Miss coach Jay Hopson admitted Monday. “There were a lot of three-and-outs.”
That was an understatement. For Marshall, there were eight possessions when it couldn’t even get one first down. The Thundering Herd converted only one of 13 third downs.
For Southern Miss, there were four possessions when it couldn’t get a first down, including three three-and-outs and one four-and-out. USM converted 6 of 18 third downs and 2 of 3 fourth downs.
In the game, Marshall punted 10 times and the Golden Eagles punted six times.
“I thought we did a good job — a lot better — of not giving up the big plays,” Southern Miss defensive coordinator Tony Pecoraro said. “The key is to make them earn it, that it wasn’t a one-play drive.”
Quick touchdowns were a problem in USM’s previous game, when LSU struck for three long passes and a big run.
But this past game, Marshall managed only 226 yards of total offense, 166 passing and 60 running, for an average of just 3.8 yards per play.
Pecoraro started naming defensive players who played well against Marshall and named practically every starter.
“I thought a lot of guys really played hard for four quarters,” he said. “I thought the secondary played its best game of the year.”
Players of the Week
Players of the Week selected by the coaching staff were running back Ito Smith on offense, defensive tackle Dylan Bradley on defense and Ladarius Harris and Darian Yancey on special teams.
Smith ran for 140 yards and added 43 receiving yards on four catches. It was his fifth 100-yard game of the season and 13th of his career. He moved ahead of Bucky McElroy (3,560 yards) and Bubba Phillips (2,527) on the school’s all-time rushing list into the No. 7 spot with 2,579 yards.
Bradley made four tackles (two solos), including 1.5 sacks for 12 yards against Marshall. He added his second blocked kick of the season on a fourth-quarter field goal attempt. Bradley leads the team with 11.5 tackles for loss as well as 6.5 sacks.
Yancey made five solo tackles and one assist.
Optimistic about D.J.
Hopson said he hoped wide receiver D.J. Thompson, whose arm was in a sling during the second half of the Marshall game, would be OK for this Saturday’s 2:30 p.m. contest against Charlotte at M.M. Roberts Stadium.
“He got banged up, but nothing that will be season ending,” Hopson said. “Right now, I think he’s fine.”
Thompson, who has started the last 22 Southern Miss games, is second on the team in receiving this season with 31 receptions for 335 yards and four touchdowns.
Allenzae Staggers leads the Golden Eagles in catches with 37, receiving yards with 696 and touchdown receptions with six.
In the West Division of Conference USA, Louisiana Tech is in first place with a 4-1 record, followed by USM at 3-1, UTSA at 3-2, North Texas at 2-2, UTEP at 1-4 and Rice at 0-5.
In the East Division, Western Kentucky is at 4-1, followed by Middle Tennessee and Old Dominion at 3-1, FIU at 3-2, Charlotte at 2-2, Marshall at 1-3 and Florida Atlantic at 0-4.
At least six Conference USA teams will land in a bowl this postseason, provided they are bowl-eligible with six wins.
The contracts are with the Gildan New Mexico, Hawaii, Boca Raton, Popeyes Bahamas, R+L Carriers New Orleans and Zaxby’s Heart of Dallas bowls.
Southern Miss, at 5-3, is one win away from becoming bowl-eligible.
Who: Southern Miss vs. Charlotte
When: 2:30 p.m., Saturday
Where: Roberts Stadium, Hattiesburg
Radio: 104.9 FM