Southern Miss

Southern Miss riding high headed into C-USA title game

 Southern Miss punter Matthew Moseley signals touchdown as Todd Monken watches for an instant replay on Nov. 21 in Hattiesburg.
TIM ISBELL/SUN HERALD Southern Miss punter Matthew Moseley signals touchdown as Todd Monken watches for an instant replay on Nov. 21 in Hattiesburg. SUN HERALD

HATTIESBURG -- Talk around the Southern Miss campus leans heavily to last week's football win over Louisiana Tech and this week's Conference USA championship matchup at Western Kentucky.

And to the postgame dance.

Against Louisiana Tech, the Golden Eagles took advantage of seven turnovers and an on-side kick, a strong defense against the run and a quick-strike offense that left the Bulldogs reeling in a 58-24 affair for the C-USA West Division title.

Then they went into the locker room and celebrated.

And Southern Miss coach Todd Monken was right in the middle of them.

"I jumped, I don't know if I danced," Monken said, knowing full well that a video now chronicles his actions. "I was excited for them. I don't really dance. I don't have any spring in my step.

"I was excited for our players, that's what you do it for. It's a puzzle to figure it out. I don't take that lightly. Never have. I try to never lose sight of the job I have and the responsibility I have for everybody involved. For that part of it, I was excited for them. And I was relieved, because I thought we were good enough. And there's no ribbon for getting close. There's no ribbon for second place."

Offensive coordinator Chip Lindsey said he saw the video of Monken dancing.

"He's a really good coach," Lindsey said. "I'm not sure he's a great dancer."

Defensive coordinator David Duggan said he got as far away from the dance floor as possible.

"When they started yelling for coaches, I started running for cover," Duggan said.

But Duggan admitted that he got a good feeling from the celebration.

"It was one of those locker rooms you don't get to experience too often," he said. "You cherish those feelings. They knew we had one more left, so it was a little bit 'you've got something left, one more to finish it off.'"

That day could come at 11 a.m. Saturday in the Conference USA championship at Bowling Green, Ky., home of the 10-2 Hilltoppers.

Southern Miss (9-3), which won only four games the past three seasons, has not won a C-USA title since 2011, when it defeated Houston.

WKU, which has defeated 11 straight Conference USA opponents, has never won a league crown at the FBS level.

Both teams also will play in a bowl, but bowl pairings will not be announced until Sunday.

Three Southern Miss defensive stars left the Louisiana Tech game with injuries, but Monken said he hopes they will be able to play against Western Kentucky.

"Losing (cornerback) Kalan (Reed) early in the game, he is leading the league in passes defensed. Then losing (linebackers) Elijah (Parker) early in the game and having Anthony (Swain get hurt) - we anticipate having all of them back - but to lose them (was tough)," Monken said. "I am proud of the way our defense responded and the way they played in the game. We held them to minus-2 yards rushing and Kenneth Dixon to minus-4 yards rushing. We harassed the quarterback and when they had the chance to make plays down the field they didn't connect, which was huge as well as the takeaways. We got an onside kick and a takeaway on special teams. It was a total team effort and I was really proud of the guys that went in and battled that replaced the guys that got hurt."

USM quarterback Nick Mullens, who completed 24 of 37 passes for 386 yards and three touchdowns against Tech, is one of eight quarterbacks named a "Manning Star of the Week."