Southern Miss

Title bout: Southern Miss, La. Tech to battle for C-USA West

TIM ISBELL/SUN HERALD 
 Southern Miss receiver D. J. Thompson tries to catch a Nick Mullens pass as Old Dominion cornerback Aaron Young trails, Saturday, Nov. 21, 2015. Thompson dropped the pass.
TIM ISBELL/SUN HERALD Southern Miss receiver D. J. Thompson tries to catch a Nick Mullens pass as Old Dominion cornerback Aaron Young trails, Saturday, Nov. 21, 2015. Thompson dropped the pass. SUN HERALD

The Southern Miss football team will play Saturday in its most meaningful game since it beat Houston in the Conference USA title contest in 2011.

The Golden Eagles travel to Louisiana Tech at 11 a.m. in a game that will decide the C-USA West and a spot in the Dec. 5 conference championship game.

USM sold out its allotment of 800 tickets for the game and there should be plenty more Golden Eagle fans in the stands when the game kicks off at 28,000-seat Joe Aillet Stadium in Ruston, La.

"You always hope as a program you have the opportunity to play in the last week of the season for a chance to go to the conference championship," USM head coach Todd Monken said. "There aren't many teams that can say that."

USM (8-3, 6-1) has already doubled its win total from the three previous seasons (4-32) this year and is seeking the program's third trip to the C-USA title game.

If USM manages to pick up the upset win on the road, it would be another big step forward in Monken's third season as head coach.

"It's going to be fun," Monken said. "I told our team there is no reason to fear this game. This is what you play for. If you put yourself in enough of these opportunities, then you are going to break through and this is a big chance for us."

The Eagles have won five consecutive games by thrashing conference opponents with an offense that is set to break numerous program records and a defense that's gaining confidence by the week.

In Louisiana Tech, USM faces arguably its toughest opponent since the season-opening 34-16 loss to Mississippi State.

Tech (8-3, 6-1) is capable of putting just as many points on the board as Southern Miss with an average of 37.9 points a game and has a defense that is the best in C-USA against the run, allowing 109.5 yards a game on the ground.

Quarterback Jeff Driskel, a Florida transfer, has completed 62 percent of his passes for 3,220 yards, 21 touchdowns and five interceptions.

Driskel's favorite receiver is junior Trent Taylor, who has 78 catches for 1,031 yards and seven scores.

Senior running back Kenneth Dixon has 168 rushes for 972 yards and 17 touchdowns with 23 catches for 273 yards and three scores.

Saturday's game marks the 47th installment of the "Rivalry in Dixie" with USM leading the all-time series over Louisiana Tech, 31-15.

If USM earns a win Saturday, it will reach the nine-win mark for the 15th time in school history.

"We have earned this moment. It wasn't a gift," Monken said. "We lost one conference game on the road against a good Marshall team when we didn't play our best. We are good enough and that's what I want our guys to know. Let's take advantage of this opportunity."

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