One game does not make a season, but Saturday’s 43-28 loss to North Texas is reason for concern at Southern Miss.
Through three games, it appeared as if the USM defense was ready to make an impressive run through Conference USA. It only took one conference game to end that notion.
North Texas humbled the Golden Eagles (2-2, 0-1) with 540 yards of offense on Saturday. After USM held UNT scoreless for most of the first quarter, the Mean Green largely did what they wanted the rest of the way.
The USM offense carries a good chunk of the blame, holding onto the ball for just 9:05 in the final 30 minutes, but the defense has to be much better than what it showed Saturday. The same issues that plagued the 2016 defense in its worst moments again came to light — far too many big plays allowed in the ground game and not enough turnovers created.
USM head coach Jay Hopson has to hope Saturday’s loss was simply a bump in the road and not a sign of things to come with a difficult road game at 6 p.m. on Saturday at Texas-San Antonio (3-0).
Last year’s 55-32 loss at UTSA was a nightmare for Hopson and his defensive coordinator, Tony Pecoraro. The Roadrunners led 28-7 after one quarter and piled up 532 yards, including 339 on 35 rushes.
Can Southern Miss turn it around on both sides of the ball?
Yes, and if there’s one unit likely to see improved play over the next few weeks it will be the defense. There’s too much depth on the defensive front and talent in the secondary. While it wasn’t totally stunning that UNT won Saturday in Hattiesburg, the play of the defense was surprising.
Expecting the offense to be consistently productive every week may be asking a bit much considering USM has a first-year starter at quarterback, Kwadra Griggs, and an offensive line that is relying on inexperienced depth.
Senior running back Ito Smith rushed the ball only 13 times last week, gaining 105 yards and two touchdowns. There’s no question Smith needs to get more touches, and I fully expect the Mobile native to get far more carries at UTSA on Saturday.
It’s good to give Smith a breather now and then, but the USM staff should have realized that there wasn’t much need to leave him on the sideline in favor of Tez Parks when Smith only had seven rushes at the half.
Smith, who has always kept his cool, showed some frustration after Saturday’s game when he said plainly, “I really think we’ve just got to run the ball more.”
He’s right, and give the ball to Ito.
USM needs four more wins to get bowl eligible and has three games remaining on its schedule that appear to be safe victories — Oct. 14 vs. UTEP, Nov. 11 at Rice and Nov. 18 vs. Charlotte. The path to the postseason is not an easy one considering road games remain against UTSA, Louisiana Tech (3-2), Tennessee (3-2) and Marshall (3-1).
When UAB (2-2) comes to Hattiesburg on Oct. 28, USM’s bowl fate may be determined if it can’t rebound Saturday at UTSA.
My prediction for Saturday: UTSA 31, Southern Miss 20.
Fire up Facebook
The only way you can watch Saturday’s game at UTSA will be to go to Stadium’s Facebook page and watch the live feed.
I’ve tinkered with other games that have been carried on Facebook via Stadium this season and it seems to be a clean stream without many hiccups. The Nov. 11 USM game at Rice will also be live-streamed on Stadium’s Facebook page.
Who: Southern Miss vs. UTSA
When: 6 p.m., Saturday
Where: San Antonio, Texas
Radio: 104.9 FM
C-USA Power Rankings
1. UTSA (3-0)
2. La. Tech (3-2, 1-0)
3. Marshall (3-1)
4. North Texas (3-2, 2-0)
5. WKU (2-2, 0-1)
6. Southern Miss (2-2, 0-1)
7. FAU (2-3, 1-0)
8. MTSU (2-3, 0-1)
9. UAB (2-2, 0-1)
10. Old Dominion (2-2, 0-0)
11. FIU (3-1, 2-0)
12. Rice (1-4, 1-1)
13. UTEP (0-5, 0-1)
14. Charlotte (0-5, 0-1)