Patrick Magee

LSU looms, but Southern Miss has to get right for C-USA play

Southern Miss defensive end Xavier Thigpen sacks Troy quarterback Sawyer Smith on Sept. 17 in Hattiesburg.
Southern Miss defensive end Xavier Thigpen sacks Troy quarterback Sawyer Smith on Sept. 17 in Hattiesburg. ttisbell@sunherald.com

A nice showing this Saturday at LSU could be a confidence booster for Southern Miss, but the Golden Eagles have to be more concerned about getting right for the rest of Conference USA play after last week's deflating 55-32 loss at Texas-San Antonio.

The USM defense is in a bad spot coming off Saturday's poor performance after allowing UTSA to mostly do as it pleased. UTSA quarterback Dalton Sturm completed 10 of 12 passes for 190 yards and a touchdown while the team ran 35 times for 339 yards and six scores.

USM's play against the ground game is reason for concern. UTSA's Jalen Rhodes and Jarveon Williams both had over 100 yards rushing and much of their success came right up the middle.

Issues up front

USM (4-2, 2-1 in Conference USA) has an undersized defensive line that averages about 6-foot-2, 259 pounds among the four starters and teams like Troy, Rice and UTSA have taken full advantage of that deficiency. Those three teams have averaged 235 rushing yards against USM.

At UTSA, the Southern Miss defense was mostly dominated by an offensive line that is one of the smallest units in Conference USA. On Saturday at LSU, the USM defensive line will face a much larger and more athletic offensive line.

Star LSU running back Leonard Fournette's status for the game is up in the air, but that likely won't matter considering LSU's six other running backs are averaging a combined 7.6 yards a carry.

Derrius Guice, a 5-foot-11, 212-pound sophomore, leads LSU (3-2) with 46 carries for 402 yards and four touchdowns.

Help on the way

USM could get a boost to its defensive line this week if redshirt junior defensive tackle Draper Riley, who stands 6-foot-4, 305 pounds, can return to the field. He is set to practice this week for the first time since the season started and defensive coordinator Tony Pecoraro said Monday that he has a chance at playing Saturday.

A healthy Riley gives USM the big body it needs badly in the middle of the defensive line. Even if he returns to action Saturday, it will likely take a while to get back into full fledged playing shape.

USM senior quarterback Nick Mullens is dealing with a sore thumb on his right hand, but head coach Jay Hopson is hopeful that he will be ready to go Saturday. If Mullens isn't available, that could lead to a particularly miserable road trip.

The Southern Miss football season is at a crossroads, but fans likely won't have a good idea on which direction the team is headed after this Saturday's game.

USM's level of success this season will be measured from here on out by how it plays against the rest of Conference USA and it has to do much better than it showed in San Antonio.

Game plan

Who: Southern Miss vs. LSU

When: 6:30 p.m., Saturday

Where: Baton Rouge, La.

TV: SEC Network

Radio: 104.9 FM

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