HATTIESBURG -- Southern Miss' defense played fairly well against Marshall last week.
Sure, the final score was 31-10 in the hoss to the Thundering Herd. But one Marshall touchdown came on a lost fumble. Another came after an unsportsmanlike penalty against a USM offensive player, still another score came after a USM field goal attempt was blocked and then there was the Marshall touchdown that came after USM jumped offsides on a Marshall field goal attempt to prolong a drive.
So really, except for a 61-yard touchdown pass, the Marshall offense was aided by the Southern Miss special teams or offense. All total, the USM defense held Marshall to only 277 yards of offense.
Throw in the Golden Eagles' 49-14 win over North Texas on Oct. 3, when USM pitched a shutout for three quarters, and the USM defense has played well the past two games.
"I think it's just their confidence," Southern Miss defensive coordinator David Duggan said. "They're playing real hard. They played very well until about three to five plays where the ball got out on us and we didn't execute very well.
"It's disappointing to get such a great effort and have it not come up with a win. I feel bad for our guys because they're playing their tails off. They're really preparing well weekly and hopefully they'll continue to do the same and we'll see different results this weekend."
After some early-season injuries altered the USM defense, the same 11 players have started the past three games.
Plus, will linebacker Anthony Swain and boundary safeties Devonta Foster and Deshadrick Truly are back on the field after being hurt several weeks ago.
This week's depth chart on defense is the same it has been for the past three games, although both Swain and Terrick Wright are listed as first-string will linebacker this week.
Duggan hopes they play as well, or better, against UTSA at 6 p.m. Saturday in USM's homecoming game.
"It's kind of a special group that hits it off chemistry-wise," Duggan said of the defense. "They all have the will to prepare. They all have a single goal. They're confident in their own abilities and they want to win.
"They've had enough down times here and they're all pulling in the same direction and preparing well together. Just a good chemistry right now that's part of good teams and hopefully we'll continue with that."
Southern Miss head coach Todd Monken noticed the improvement, too, since his defense gave up 591 yards to Texas State and 610 to Nebraska.
"I think we are getting better and healthier," Monken said. "That's part of it. We have a lot of new guys. If you look around a lot of the guys are in their first year and they are starting to play better together. That's probably the biggest thing. They have always played hard.
"Two weeks ago, everyone looks and says, 'It's going to be a high-scoring game.' Now it's, 'They are playing good defense so look for a low-scoring game.' It's just a week-to-week thing. We have good coaches and players, we just have to find ways to score points and stop them."