Southern Miss

2016 turns sour for Southern Miss fans

Southern Miss receiver Isaiah Jones watches another pass fall incomplete on Oct. 29 against Marshall at M. M. Roberts Stadium in Hattiesburg.
Southern Miss receiver Isaiah Jones watches another pass fall incomplete on Oct. 29 against Marshall at M. M. Roberts Stadium in Hattiesburg. ttisbell@sunherald.com

There's no other way to spin it, the Southern Miss football season has been a disappointment.

There will be no trip to the Conference USA title game. Heck, even a bowl bid is very much in question.

Some were predicting double digit wins for the Golden Eagles prior to the start of the season, but nine victories and a spot in the C-USA title game seemed the most likely possibility.

With four losses in the last five games, USM is reeling.

The Golden Eagles sit at 5-5 overall, needing one more win to assure themselves of a bowl game. Their best chance comes at 4:30 p.m. Saturday when they face North Texas in Denton, Texas.

Both USM and North Texas are hobbled and stumbling in the final weeks of the season.

Following a 4-3 start the season, North Texas sits at 4-6 overall and 2-4 in C-USA. The Mean Green has to beat USM on Saturday and top UTEP in El Paso in the regular season finale to become bowl eligible.

Mean Green issues

North Texas starting quarterback Mason Fine's status for Saturday's game is uncertain following a shoulder injury and running back Jeffrey Wilson is likely done for the season with a knee injury, according to the Denton Record Chronicle. Wilson has been a huge part of the UNT offense with 833 yards rushing and 13 touchdowns this season.

If USM had senior quarterback Nick Mullens ready to go for Saturday's game, it would likely be a considerable favorite on the road. Instead, head coach Jay Hopson is still unsure if Mullens will play Saturday after he was removed from the Nov. 5 Charlotte game when officials became concerned that he suffered a concussion.

At the moment, you get the feeling that true freshman Keon Howard will again line up behind center. The Laurel product showed glimpses of promise in Saturday's 51-35 loss at Old Dominion, but for every nice play there were just as many shaky freshman mistakes.

The upside: Howard completed 12 of 24 passes for 230 yards, one touchdown and one interception. He was at his best running the ball with 28 carries for 98 yards and a score.

The downside: Howard lost four fumbles and accounted for five turnovers total. He started the fourth quarter with 150 yards rushing, but he made some ill-advised scrambles for big losses.

Howard showed toughness in the pocket, but he's got to be more savvy. Instead of holding the ball out wide while avoiding the rush, he's got to wrap it up.

The good news for Howard is that the solutions to his problems are simple. Howard has the potential to be a special quarterback for the Golden Eagles. He's just got to grow up a lot faster than his coaches had hoped necessary.

Must win

Considering USM hosts a red hot Louisiana Tech team (8-3, 6-1) on Nov. 25 in the final game of the regular season, it absolutely must beat North Texas on Saturday to assure itself of bowl eligibility.

The USM defense has to show up and prevent the big play against the Mean Green. While turnovers contributed to the defense's undoing last week against ODU, it still gave up too many big runs. USM largely stuffed the run against ODU on Saturday, but gave up a 67-yard run to Jeremy Cox and a 46-yard run to Ray Lawry.

With Wilson's injury, the North Texas ground game will likely be among the weakest USM has faced this season. If the USM defense can't stop the run Saturday, that's another sign of a flawed scheme.

The season isn't a total loss if USM can somehow finish the year above .500, but all that preseason buzz turned out to be false chatter.

Patrick Magee: 228-896-2333, @Patrick_Magee

Game plan

Who: Southern Miss vs. North Texas

When: 4:30 p.m., Saturday

Where: Denton, Texas

TV: beIN SPORTS

Radio: 104.9 FM

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