Southern Miss

Southern Miss looks to pass Troy test Saturday

Southern Miss receiver Allenzae Staggers runs for a first down after catching a pass from Nick Mullens against Savannah State last week in Hattiesburg.
Southern Miss receiver Allenzae Staggers runs for a first down after catching a pass from Nick Mullens against Savannah State last week in Hattiesburg. ttisbell@sunherald.com

As soon as Southern Miss finished off a 56-0 win over Savannah State last week, all eyes turned to Saturday night’s opponent, Troy.

Kentucky and LSU were circled on the non-conference schedule prior to the season as the Eagles’ biggest challenges, and for good reason. But all USM coach Jay Hopson and his players needed to realize that Troy is going to present a significant challenge is the score of the Trojans’ game last Saturday – No. 2 Clemson 30, Troy 24.

“A really, really impressive showing,” USM head coach Jay Hopson said after the Savannah State game. “They’re an excellent program. Extremely talented, well coached.”

USM (2-0) hosts Troy (1-1) at 6 p.m. on Saturday in Hattiesburg in a game to be televised by beIN SPORTS, which is in its first year of carrying Conference USA games. The station is available on most cable and satellite providers, but Cable ONE does not carry it on the Coast.

Troy, which won its season opener 57-17 over Austin Peay with 706 yards of total offense, has featured a balanced offense, averaging 284 yards in the passing game and 262 yards on the ground.

Troy has played three different quarterbacks, but junior Brandon Silvers has been the primary option. The pro-style passer has completed 63.8 percent of his passes for 462 yards, four touchdowns and two interceptions. Sawyer Smith and Kaleb Barker have also seen snaps with Barker the more athletic of the three with four rushes for 70 yards and a touchdown.

Troy’s leading rusher is 6-foot-1, 227-pound junior Jordan Chunn, who has 28 carries for 205 yards and a score. He and Josh Anderson are both powerful runners while Jabir Frye is a smaller, faster running back who had a 66-yard touchdown run against Clemson last week.

Deondre Douglas, a 6-foot-1, 200-pound sophomore, is Troy’s top receiver with 18 catches for 138 yards and two scores.

“The quarterback is an excellent football player,” Hopson said. “They have really good skilled players not only out wide at receiver but also in the backfield. That’s been proven. They do a great job up front too. Top to bottom they’re a good football team. We know it’s a game we need to prepare hard and be focused for.”

USM can move to 3-0 Saturday for the first time since 2009, a season that ended with a 7-6 record.

While much of the talk about USM entering the season surrounded senior quarterback Nick Mullens, the Eagles have relied mostly on the potent running back duo of junior Ito Smith and redshirt junior George Payne.

Both players have reached the 100 yard mark in the first two games of the season. Smith has run 44 times for 301 yards and two scores while Payne has 30 carries for 216 yards and one touchdown.

Smith sat out the entire second half last week, but still ranks sixth in the nation in rushing yardage. USM ranks eighth as a team nationally in average rushing yardage at 315.5.

The Troy defense frustrated Clemson at times last week, holding the Tigers to 122 yards on 32 rushes. The Trojans are limiting opponents to 334 yards a game so far. The Golden Eagles have held opponents to 225 yards a game.

Hopson said this week that he thinks senior defensive tackle Jerry McCorvey, a Vancleave native, should return to the field after sitting out last week with an injury. He hasn’t played since leaving the field int he second half of the season opener at Kentucky.

Game plan

Who: Troy vs. Southern Miss

When: 6 p.m., Saturday

Where: Roberts Stadium, Hattiesburg

TV: beIN SPORTS

Radio: 104.9 FM

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