Southern Miss

Pressure is on the defenses in the C-USA championship game

TIM ISBELL/SUN HERALD 
 Southern Miss linebacker Elijah Parker tries to block the pass of Old Dominion quarterback Shuler Bentley, Saturday, Nov. 21, 2015.
TIM ISBELL/SUN HERALD Southern Miss linebacker Elijah Parker tries to block the pass of Old Dominion quarterback Shuler Bentley, Saturday, Nov. 21, 2015. SUN HERALD

HATTIESBURG -- Points will be scored in Saturday's Conference USA football championship game between Southern Miss and Western Kentucky.

Many points, probably.

Western Kentucky (10-2), the home team for the 11 a.m. (ESPN2) game, is averaging 44.2 points per game, which ranks fourth in the nation. The Hilltoppers have scored more than 40 points eight times this season.

Southern Miss (9-3) averages 41.7 points per game, 10th in the country. The Golden Eagles have scored more than 40 points seven times this year.

"They can score points," Western Kentucky coach Jeff Brohm said simply in his weekly press conference.

But as much as you hear about WKU quarterback Brandon Doughty, who is completing 72.5 percent of his passes (best in the nation), and receivers Taywan Taylor (71 catches), Jared Dangerfield (67 catches) and Nicholas Norris (53 catches) and USM quarterback Nick Mullens (64.2 percent) and his top receivers, Casey Martin (72 catches), Mike Thomas (56 catches) and D.J. Thompson (51 catches), both teams' defenses are pretty good, too.

USM ranks 33rd in the country in total defense, giving up 351.0 yards per game, while the Hilltoppers rank 62nd, allowing 395.3 yards per game.

The question is, which one will succeed come Saturday?

"The first thing we do as a defensive staff is how do we stop their top five or six run plays," Southern Miss defensive coordinator David Duggan said. "That's part of the scheme and part of our staff putting together a pretty good plan. Then your players have to go out and execute."

Against Western Kentucky and Doughty, that will not be easy.

"He's played a lot of football," Duggan said of the sixth-year senior (Doughty was hurt and redshirted in 2011 and 2012). "It seems like he's got a great presence. He's very accurate throwing the ball, leading the nation in a lot of statistics. Passing percentage, if he's not at the top he's darn close. And he's got a lot of weapons to use. Taylor is (a semifinalist for) the Biletnikoff (Award for being the best receiver in the country). They've got their tight end (Tyler Bigbee) back, he's 6-6, they can distribute ball. They've got a lot of weapons."

WKU's Brohm knows all about the Golden Eagles, too, especially Mullins.

"They have an outstanding quarterback, three-year starter," Brohm said. "He's playing as good as he's played. He's a guy I know all about. I recruited him. He's a very accurate passer, just like Brandon, and very similar in a lot of things he does."

Western Kentucky's defensive coordinator is Nick Holt, who has coached at Arkansas, Louisville, Southern Cal and Washington.

The Golden Eagles know all about him, too.

"Their defense is very disruptive," USM offensive coordinator Chip Lindsey said. "Their defensive coordinator, coach Holt, does an unbelievable job. He's been at the highest level in college football, very experienced, very intense, gets those guys to play hard. They take on his personality and do a lot of things to give you problems. You can see it all over their defense.

"This will be a huge challenge. We're going to have to make sure we've got a great plan together and play well."

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