Southern Miss

Southern Miss still has much to prove after Kentucky win

Southern Miss quarterback Nick Mullens hands the ball off to running back George Payne against Kentucky Saturday in Lexington, Ky. Southern Miss won the game 44-35.
Southern Miss quarterback Nick Mullens hands the ball off to running back George Payne against Kentucky Saturday in Lexington, Ky. Southern Miss won the game 44-35. Associated Press

It's the second week of the Southern Miss football season and fans have good reason to celebrate, but it's best not to get too high following Saturday's 44-35 win at Kentucky.

As USM's football history tells us, a big early season victory is not always a great indicator for how the season will play out. And it was Kentucky after all, not exactly an SEC heavyweight.

When USM won 21-17 to open the 2004 season at Nebraska, the Golden Eagles finished a fairly average 7-5.

Brett Favre led USM to a 30-26 win over Florida State in Jacksonville, Florida, in 1989, only to stumble to a 5-6 mark.

Message: Relax and don't get ahead of yourselves.

As well as everything went for the Golden Eagles in the second half Saturday, just as many things went wrong in the first half.

What USM showed Saturday was guts and the ability to finish.

When Jay Hopson's squad came out hot Saturday to start the second half, the Wildcats showed they were no different than the 2015 team that gave up a 24-7 halftime lead over Louisville in a 38-24 loss in the season finale.

Big Blues

Kentucky may recover and reach bowl eligibility, but Big Blue Nation has witnessed epic collapses in the last two games and for much of Mark Stoops' four-year tenure in Lexington. It's hard to see Stoops keeping his job much longer if his teams keep folding in the second halves of both games and seasons. Kentucky is a total of 2-16 under Stoops in the final six games of the season from 2013-15 with the two wins coming over Alabama State and Charlotte.

At 6 p.m. Saturday, Southern Miss hosts possibly the worst FCS program in the nation in Savannah State. The Tigers are 7-71 since the 2009 season.

While Savannah State was competitive at times last year against FCS competition during a 1-9 season, it lost by a combined score of 117-22 in two games against FBS teams, Colorado State and Akron.

Savannah State drew some attention (or pity) in 2012 when it had to go to Oklahoma State and Florida State on consecutive weeks to open the season. The Tigers lost those games by a combined score of 139-0. Just like many other FCS programs, Savannah State has to go on the road against top competition in order to keep its program afloat financially.

What to watch for

This is a game where USM should look to get its starters out of the game as quickly as possible. As much as he would like to regain his stride after an uneven game at Kentucky, quarterback Nick Mullens should be on the sideline by the midway point of the second quarter. Also, USM can ill afford for running backs Ito Smith or George Payne to get banged up.

Another major concern has to be the health of USM's defensive tackles. Senior Dylan Bradley was outstanding a week ago, but redshirt senior Jerry McCorvey had to be helped off with an injury at one point. Expect to see a lot of freshman defensive tackles Jauan Collins (of Pascagoula) and DeMario Smith in the second half.

USM received a couple of points in Tuesday's USA Today Coaches Poll, but didn't get a vote in the AP Top 25.

With a relatively soft schedule ahead for the next few weeks, it's going to be tough for USM to make a quick jump into the polls. The Eagles may break through if they can get to 6-0 prior to the Oct. 15 game at LSU.

Kentucky can help USM's cause by picking off teams like Florida and South Carolina in the next three weeks off. However, a win this Saturday at Florida seems very unlikely.

USM has a favorable schedule ahead and there may be only one game remaining where it will be an underdog (LSU), but there's much to be determined before fans can start talking about a conference championship or bowl bids. What has to be encouraging for Hopson is that he knows his team can put together a much more complete game than the one it played Saturday in Lexington.

Game plan

Who: Southern Miss vs. Savannah State

When: 6 p.m., Saturday

Where: Roberts Stadium, Hattiesburg

Radio: 104.9-FM