Southern Miss’ football rivalries in Conference USA have changed as the league has evolved, but the closest thing the team has to a conference nemesis at the moment is Louisiana Tech.
The series has held its own name for the last four decades — “The Rivalry in Dixie.”
The man credited with coming up with the title for the series is Maxie Lambright, a former Southern Miss football player who served as the Louisiana Tech head coach from 1967-78. The McComb native had a career coaching record of 95-36-2.
The series dates back to 1935 when coach Pooley Hubert’s USM squad, then known as State Teachers College, fell 27-0 at Louisiana Tech. Since then, the series has largely been dominated by the Golden Eagles, holding a 33-15 all-time advantage.
While Houston, Louisville, Marshall and UAB have been among USM’s most hated football foes in C-USA since the league’s creation since 1995, Louisiana Tech may be a better fit as a rival than any of those four schools. USM and Louisiana Tech are similar culturally and located only 239 miles apart. The rivalry also stretches to other sports like baseball, which has seen the annual series take an uptick in intensity with Tech’s improvement on the diamond.
There was even a budding rivalry between the two men’s basketball teams, but NCAA sanctions brought about by Donnie Tyndall’s stint as USM head coach from 2012-14 gutted the Golden Eagles’ program.
‘Circled on the schedule’
Last season’s Tech-USM football game in Hattiesburg helped boost the idea that “The Rivalry in Dixie” has gained some traction since the Bulldogs joined Conference USA in 2013.
The Golden Eagles (4-2, 2-1) won 39-24 in the regular season finale to clinch a second consecutive bowl bid and they were playing with a little extra fire thanks to some comments by Tech players in the lead up to the game.
Safety Xavier Woods, who is now with the Dallas Cowboys, said, “I want to end their season.”
Receiver Trent Taylor, who is now with the San Francisco 49ers, said he wanted to “embarrass” the Golden Eagles.
A year later, USM players haven’t forgotten the chatter.
“We beat them twice in a row,” USM senior defensive tackle Draper Riley said. “Every time we play them, they’re always talking stuff. We get pumped up so I guess it’s kind of a rivalry.”
Another USM senior, running back Ito Smith, didn’t argue with the idea of it being a rivalry contest.
“It’s another game, but it’s a game we always have circled on the schedule,” he said. “We’ve got to get this one.”
Low key chatter
Southern Miss, which has won its last two games against Tech, travels to Ruston for Saturday’s 6 p.m. game as a 2 ½-point underdog.
Louisiana Tech, which is coming off a 23-22 loss at UAB on Oct. 7, has underachieved somewhat at 3-3 overall and 1-1 in C-USA play. The Bulldogs haven’t been very potent on offense this season, but they’re capable of putting up big numbers behind sophomore quarterback J’Mar Smith, a Meridian native. Smith has completed 114 of 198 passes for 1,529 yards, nine touchdowns and three interceptions.
A year after talking trash about the Golden Eagles, head coach Skip Holtz and his players were much more low key discussing this Saturday’s game.
“It’s a fantastic rivalry with a great atmosphere,” Tech senior receiver Marlon Watts said Tuesday. “The media always knows they’ll get a good game out of us. I remember since my freshman year that this has always been a big game for us.”
Saturday’s game may amount to an early elimination game in the C-USA West. If you win, you’re still in the hunt. If you lose, you’re just hoping to earn a bowl bid.
Who: Southern Miss vs. Louisiana Tech
When: 6 p.m. Saturday
Where: Ruston, La.
Radio: 104.9 FM