Southern Miss

Five things to watch for as Southern Miss football hosts UNT in a key C-USA game

The Southern Miss football team plays host to North Texas at 6 p.m. on Saturday in the biggest Conference USA home game for the Golden Eagles in quite some time.

It also happens to be homecoming in Hattiesburg, further ramping up the atmosphere for a game that has a good shot at determining the C-USA West champion.

The Mean Green walk in with a bit of a mental edge considering they have won the last three games in the series and hold a 7-6 all-time advantage.

However, UNT (2-3, 0-1) is not playing its best football headed into Saturday’s game.

The last three Mean Green defeats have come against stiff competition — SMU, California and Houston. The UNT defense is giving up 30.4 points a game, including 31 to FCS squad Abilene Christian in the season opener.

The only real bright spot on the UNT schedule so far was a 45-3 over a bad UTSA squad in Denton.

As for USM, it walks in at 3-2 and 1-0 with the only two losses coming to Mississippi State and Alabama. There are some kinks to work out on the defensive side of the ball, but the Golden Eagles’ offense has a shot to put up big numbers in C-USA play.

Saturday’s game will be shown on the Stadium College Football page on Facebook.

Here are five things to watch for in Saturday’s game:

Revived rushing attack?: The North Texas defense is giving up 189 yards a game on the ground this season, giving USM a shot to finally have a breakout game running the ball.

Senior De’Michael Harris had a nice C-USA debut as a running back in last week’s 31-13 win over UTEP, running 11 times for 66 yards and a TD. He also caught two passes for 80 yards, including a 74-yard reception for a TD, and had 49 yards on a pair of kickoff returns.

Harris and junior Kevin Perkins, who had 65 yards rushing against UTEP, are USM’s top two options in the ground.

Against UNT, the USM offense has a prime shot to develop some swagger in the rushing attack.

“Obviously, our goal is to be at 200 rushing yards a game,” USM offensive coordinator Buster Faulkner said. “If we get to 160, we’ve got a chance to win. We hit that mark (against UTEP).”

USM is averaging 107.6 rushing yards a game.

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QB battle: Fans who like good, efficient quarterback play should be pleased with what they’ll see in Saturday’s contest. UNT quarterback Mason Fine is the active FBS leader in career passing yardage with 10,710 and Abraham has continued on his trend as one of the nation’s most accurate passers, throwing for an average of 303 yards a game with nine touchdown tosses.

C-USA only had two players included this week among the 20 semifinalists for the Johnny Unitas Golden Arm Award — Fine and Abraham.

Whoever has the best game passing the ball will likely walk out of Roberts Stadium with a win, and a shot to be First-Team All-Conference USA.

UNT ground game: While Fine shined in last year’s 30-7 win over USM in Denton, it was Gautier native Deandre Torrey who finished off the victory with 17 carries for 95 yards and three second-half touchdowns.

After Torrey led UNT with 977 yards rushing a year ago, redshirt sophomore Tre Siggers is setting the pace for UNT this season with 64 carries for 507 yards and four scores.

It will be difficult for the USM defense to make the UNT offense one-dimensional.

Injury update: Southern Miss should get a pair of starters back this week with redshirt junior linebacker Racheem Boothe and freshman guard Coker Wright returning from injuries.

Also, USM running backs coach Chris Buckner was confident last week that redshirt sophomore running back Steven Anderson would return to action after being helped off the field in the first half of the 31-13 win over UTEP prior to the bye week.

All eyes on Adams: It’s been a month since USM redshirt sophomore Jaylond Adams returned a kick for a touchdown, but he’s due another big play at any moment. Adams has two kickoff returns for a touchdown and one punt return for a score this season.

Adams ranks second in the nation with an average of 36.1 yards per kick return. He ranks 11th in the nation in punt returns, averaging 14.7 yards on seven attempts.

As a receiver, the Alabama native has a team-leading 28 catches for 332 yards and two touchdowns.

Adams ranks sixth in the nation in all-purpose yards, averaging for 147.40 a game.

Patrick Magee is a sports writer who has covered South Mississippi for much of the last two decades. From Southern Miss to high schools, he stays on top of it all.