Southern Miss

Southern Miss gets healthy in bye week, eyes C-USA opener vs. North Texas

Southern Miss head coach Jay Hopson watches his defense work during the game against Southern University at Roberts Stadium on Sept. 9 in Hattiesburg. USM hosts North Texas Saturday.
Southern Miss head coach Jay Hopson watches his defense work during the game against Southern University at Roberts Stadium on Sept. 9 in Hattiesburg. USM hosts North Texas Saturday. Special to The Sun Herald

This week’s Southern Miss football opponent, North Texas, is not your grandfather’s North Texas.

The Mean Green have had only one winning season in the past dozen years — 9-4 in 2013 — but things may be changing.

North Texas is currently 2-2 with wins over Lamar and UAB and losses to SMU and Iowa.

But the Mean Green ranks first in Conference USA in total offense, scoring offense and first downs and second in rushing offense and passing offense.

“Good quarterback, good running back, good receivers, so offensively they have a lot of weapons,” USM head coach Jay Hopson said Monday.

North Texas is averaging 37.8 points, 226 yards rushing, 277.5 yards passing and 503.5 yards total offense per game.

“Their quarterback (Mason Fine) throws the ball beautiful,” USM defensive coordinator Tony Pecoraro said. “Their running back (Jeffery) Wilson has almost rushed for 200 yards twice. They’re loaded on offense.”

Pecoraro said Fine is not a big guy, only about 5-foot-11.

“He’s a little Johnny Manziel-ish,” Pecoraro said. “He can escape the pocket.”

▪  It will be the first Conference USA game of the season for both Southern Miss (2-1), which had an open date last Saturday.

It is the 22nd season in Conference USA for USM. The Golden Eagles are 15-6 in C-USA opening games.

▪  Southern Miss has won five of the last seven games it has played against North Texas, although the Mean Green defeated the Golden Eagles 29-23 last year.

▪  Hopson said the off week helped the injury situation.

“We were pretty banged up,” he said. “We're hoping to get guys back and the break did kind of hit us at a good time.”

Hopson said running back Tez Parks, tight end Julian Allen and defensive lineman Delmond Landry may be healthy enough to play against North Texas.

Safety Picasso Nelson Jr. may miss the remainder of the season with a foot injury, Hopson said. Hopson said he is not sure if running back George Payne will be able to return this year.

▪  Running backs coach Lytrell Pollard, on a leave of absence reportedly due to health concerns, is not expected to be with the team on Saturday.

“He is not with us right now,” Hopson said.

▪  Southern Miss offensive coordinator Shannon Dawson may have put the question of how an off week impacts a team best.

“Sometimes you have an off week that helps,” he said, “and sometimes you have an off week and can’t get a first down.”

Game plan

Who: Southern Miss vs. North Texas

When: 6 p.m., Saturday

Where: Roberts Stadium, Hattiesburg

Radio: 104.9 FM

TV: None

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