Southern Miss

Southern Miss seeks its 6th C-USA title at WKU

TIM ISBELL/SUN HERALDSouthern Miss running back Jalen Richard dives for extra yards as his is brought down by Old Dominion's T. J. Ricks, Saturday, Nov. 21, 2015.
TIM ISBELL/SUN HERALDSouthern Miss running back Jalen Richard dives for extra yards as his is brought down by Old Dominion's T. J. Ricks, Saturday, Nov. 21, 2015. SUN HERALD

The Southern Miss football team has an opportunity add a sixth to its already record five Conference USA championships.

Western Kentucky (10-2) hosts USM (9-3) at 11 a.m. Saturday in the C-USA title game in Bowling Green, Ky. The game will be televised on ESPN2.

WKU is a 7.5-point favorite on its home field against a USM team that has won six consecutive games, including a 58-24 win over Louisiana Tech to clinch the C-USA West last week.

WKU was the preseason favorite to win the conference and they've backed up that label by winning all eight conference games.

"The stats bear that out. It is not just coach talk," USM coach Todd Monken said. "They are up there in statistical categories on both offense and defense. (Head coach Jeff Brohm) has done a great job there and coach (defensive coordinator Nick Holt) has done a really nice job defensively on how much they have improved from last year until now. They have good coaches and good players and they would not be where they are today without the combination of that. Like I said, we will expect their best and they can expect ours."

The two teams have only met once before when WKU was still a member of the Sun Belt Conference in 2012. The Hilltoppers thumped USM, 42-17, before a record crowd of 23,252 at Houchens Industries-L.T. Smith Stadium in Bowling Green.

USM quarterback Nick Mullens happened to be in the stands for that 2012 game as a recruit having a look at WKU had to offer. On Saturday, Mullens enters the same stadium determined to earn a championship ring.

Mullens will have to keep up with WKU's Brandon Doughty, who is considered one of the best senior quarterbacks in the nation.

Doughty became just the third quarterback in FBS history to throw 4,000 yards and 40 touchdowns in consecutive seasons this year. He has completed 72.5 percent of his passes (best in the nation) for 4,184 yards, 42 touchdowns and just six interceptions.

Doughty spreads the ball around to his receivers well, but his best big-play weapon is Taywan Taylor, who has 71 catches for 1,198 yards and 15 touchdowns.

While WKU can rely on one of the most efficient passing games in FBS, USM features one of the most balanced offenses.

Of USM's 534.8 yards per game, 194.7 comes on the ground.

Saturday's contest has all the makings of a shootout with the two teams averaging a combined 85.9 points a game.

"They have weapons just like we do, and both sides of the ball are playing very good for them," Brohm said. "I think it's a tremendous match-up, but it will be a great game. We've got to find a way to make more plays than they do, not turn the ball over, and win in the fourth quarter."

This will be WKU's first conference championship game and USM's third. The Eagles have split their two previous title games, losing 34-20 at Houston in 2006 and winning 49-28 at Houston in 2011.

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