If the Southern Miss football team is going to earn bowl eligibility, it will have to win its final two games.
USM athletic director Jon Gilbert told the Sun Herald on Tuesday he has decided to end the program’s pursuit of a 12th football game, which would have been played on Dec. 1.
“We are not going to play a 12th game,” he said. “We ultimately decided that, based on all the factors, we’re going to conclude the regular season on Nov. 24 against UTEP. The goal is to finish strong with the possibility of postseason play still alive.”
USM had its Sept. 15 contest at Appalachian State canceled due to Hurricane Florence, limiting the Eagles to 11 games.
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Southern Miss sits at 4-5 after losing 26-23 in overtime at Conference USA West champion UAB on Saturday.
The Golden Eagles play host to Louisiana Tech at 2:30 p.m. Saturday and close out the season with a 2 p.m. kickoff at UTEP on Nov. 24.
For USM to reach six wins and bowl eligibility, it will have to win both contests.
Southern Miss has reached the postseason in each of the last three seasons — the 2015 Heart of Dallas Bowl, the 2016 New Orleans Bowl and the 2017 Independence Bowl.
USM has dealt with several injuries to key players on offense in recent weeks with starting quarterback Jack Abraham missing the last two games with a bone bruise in his right knee. Freshman Tate Whatley has started the last two games, leading the Eagles to a 26-24 win over Marshall on Nov. 3.
The offensive line has struggled for much of the season and injuries there aren’t helping. Redshirt junior left guard Ty Pollard missed the UAB game and redshirt junior left tackle Drake Dorbeck left during the game with an injury.
Abraham, who spent a year and a half at Louisiana Tech before transferring to Northwest Mississippi Community College, remains uncertain for Saturday’s game.
“I’m hoping he’s ready to roll,” USM head coach Jay Hopson said Monday. “I keep saying that every week and he is getting better. He did just about everything with us (in practice). They’re telling me he’s ready, so we’re going to get him out there today and see how he’s doing.”
Whatley was sacked seven times Saturday, but Hopson is impressed with the play of the true freshman.
“He’s tough as nails,” Hopson said. “Tate’s a tough guy, he really is. He’s got a lot of grit and to be as young as he is with the things he does, he’s going to be a special football player in time. I love him to death and I love his spirit. That tough spirit is Southern Miss spirit. You could tell Tate was a competitor and tough guy (when we recruited him).”
Saturday’s La. Tech-USM game will be available to watch at WatchStadium.com and on the Stadium app.