HATTIESBURG -- Southern Miss football coach Todd Monken told a joke Monday. Only he didn't laugh. Gosh, he didn't even smile.
Asked about Louisiana Tech senior running back Kenneth Dixon, who caught two touchdown passes and ran for another last season against USM and ran for 207 yards and a TD two years ago against the Golden Eagles, Monken said he once had some advice for the Bulldogs' senior star.
"I'm disappointed he didn't come out early for the (NFL) draft," Monken said. "I was recommending that to him but he chose not to do that."
Southern Miss (8-3 overall, 6-1 in Conference USA) will play Dixon and Louisiana Tech (also 8-3 and 6-1) at 11 a.m. Saturday for the Conference USA West Division championship.
The winner will play Dec. 5 for the overall C-USA title.
Monken said that Tech has a balanced offense, but he has not forgot what the 5-foot-10, 210-pound Dixon did to his Eagles the two previous seasons.
"He's a tough football player," Monken said. "You watch him run, he rarely goes backwards. We did a good job on him last year, then he took that checkdown that really broke our backs. Even though we weren't scoring and were in control of the game, or at least in it, and when he had that second-and-20 or something like that and he went 85 yards for a touchdown on a checkdown, that kind of sparked them a little bit.
"So he can do it in a number of ways. They throw it to him, they check it down to him. The biggest thing with big, powerful backs is can you make them go sideways? If you can make them go sideways, they're not nearly as effective. But that's what happened on that checkdown, he got his pads going downhill and we weren't able to get him on the ground. He's a tremendous player."
Last week, in games that were inconsequential as far as rank in the standings, Southern Miss defeated Old Dominion 56-31 and Louisiana Tech defeated UTEP 17-15. Those wins were the fifth straight for USM and fourth in a row for Tech.
The Golden Eagles came on strong in the second half in their win over Old Dominion after trailing 17-14, but Monken downplayed the notion that his halftime talk had anything to do with it.
"Let's talk about the second half," he said. "We came out and scored but then they came down and scored. We went down and didn't get a fourth down and they scored. So we went from down 3 to then all of sudden and they came back and we were down 10. So whatever I said, it didn't have that much of an impact. That's overrated."
Monken, who was a graduate assistant at Notre Dame when current Louisiana Tech head coach Skip Holtz was an assistant with the Fighting Irish, used to coach at Louisiana Tech. In 2000-01, Monken coached running backs and wide receivers, and was the recruiting coordinator in 2000 for the Bulldogs.