Patrick Magee

Marshall contest pivotal for Southern Miss’ C-USA chances

Southern Miss nose tackle LaDarius Harris tries to shed a Troy blocker to stop the running back on Sept. 17 in Hattiesburg.
Southern Miss nose tackle LaDarius Harris tries to shed a Troy blocker to stop the running back on Sept. 17 in Hattiesburg. ttisbell@sunherald.com

The Southern Miss football team has a shot at a reboot for its 2016 season Saturday against Marshall.

As ugly as the last couple of losses have been for the Golden Eagles, most of their goals are still ahead of them. But for USM to find its way into the Conference USA title game, it has to make a quick turnaround after a bye week.

At 6 p.m. on Saturday, USM hosts a Thundering Herd squad that’s fallen on hard times with a 2-5 overall record and a 1-2 mark in C-USA. Marshall hit rock bottom at home last week, falling 27-24 to a Charlotte team that is still adjusting to life as an FBS program.

Some Marshall fans are hitting the panic button, but coach Doc Holliday deserves a great deal of credit for building a program that went 33-8 from 2013 to 2015. Every school is due a down season now and then.

While Marshall is reeling at the moment, USM has no reason to take Saturday’s game for granted. Marshall has owned Southern Miss recently, winning the last five games and leading the series 6-5.

Former Marshall stars Rakeem Cato and Vinny Curry combined to edge USM 26-20 in Huntington, West Virginia, in 2011, a season that ended with a C-USA title and a 12-2 mark for USM. The last four wins for the Herd in the series have been completely lopsided. Over the last four games, the Herd has outscored USM by an average of 54-16.

Southern Miss sits at 4-3 overall and 2-1 in C-USA play and is still considered the favorite by many to win the C-USA West, but the team has to regain momentum quickly.

The losses to Texas-San Antonio and LSU by a combined score of 100-42 can allow self-doubt to creep in for the Golden Eagles.

For USM to find its way back into the C-USA title contest, it has to find a way to limit big plays on defense. USM has given up an average of 8.9 yards a rush and 22.3 yards a pass over the last two games.

One encouraging sign for USM is that Marshall has averaged only 3.2 yards a rush this season. Marshall’s leading rusher is Keion Davis, who has 102 carries for 417 yards and five scores.

Marshall is a much bigger threat to go deep in the passing game behind sophomore Chase Litton, who has completed 62.1 percent of his passes for 1,812 yards, 16 touchdowns and seven interceptions. Josh Knight and Michael Clark have combined to catch 61 passes for 882 passes and eight touchdowns.

The Marshall defense has proven to be a weakness this season, giving up 468 yards a contest – 205.9 on the ground and 262.1 through the air.

USM offensive coordinator Shannon Dawson will be hoping for a balanced effort with senior quarterback Nick Mullens now fully healthy after hitting his right thumb in the UTSA game. The junior running back duo of Ito Smith and George Payne are both due another big game.

USM was a 16.5-point favorite over Marshall as of Tuesday, but nothing will come easy for the Golden Eagles if the current trend continues on defense.

Game plan

Who: Marshall vs. Southern Miss

When: 6 p.m. Saturday

Where: Roberts Stadium, Hattiesburg

TV: WXXV-NBC

Radio: 104.9 FM

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