Patrick Magee

Southern Miss in danger of missing bowl if trend continues

Southern Miss coach Jay Hopson talks to his player prior to game against Charlotte at M. M. Roberts Stadium in Hattiesburg Saturday.
Southern Miss coach Jay Hopson talks to his player prior to game against Charlotte at M. M. Roberts Stadium in Hattiesburg Saturday. ttisbell@sunherald.com

The 24-14 win over Marshall on Oct. 29 proved to be only a brief respite in the Southern Miss football team’s sudden decline.

With Saturday’s 38-27 loss to Charlotte in Hattiesburg, the Golden Eagles have fallen in three of their last four games. They’re 5-4 overall with a 3-2 mark in Conference USA.

The three remaining games on the schedule are far from sure things for USM, putting the team in danger of missing out on a bowl bid altogether.

USM travels to Old Dominion (6-3, 4-1) at 2:30 p.m. on Saturday before going to North Texas (4-5, 2-3) on Nov. 19 and hosting Louisiana Tech (7-3, 4-1) in the regular-season finale on Nov. 25.

Questions at QB

There is no line out of Las Vegas yet on the Old Dominion game with the health of USM senior quarterback Nick Mullens a question mark after he left Saturday’s contest when officials feared he had suffered a concussion.

USM coach Jay Hopson was optimistic Monday that Mullens will be ready to go this Saturday. It seems even more unlikely that Mullens’ backup, Parker Adamson, will be ready for the ODU game after he also took a hard hit late against Charlotte.

Freshman quarterback Keon Howard will get snaps this week, but the staff has long planned for the former Laurel star to receive a redshirt.

Redshirt sophomore Tez Parks also has the potential of playing behind center. He was the man who replaced Adamson late Saturday. Parks, a former quarterback at Callaway High School in LaGrange, Georgia, threw a nice-looking spiral toward the end zone, but the Charlotte cornerback made a tough play for the interception.

You have to consider ODU a favorite on its home field regardless of who gets the start at quarterback for USM.

Defensive issues

USM’s recent tailspin can’t be attributed to just one specific problem. There is plenty of blame to go around on both sides of the ball.

The biggest problem on defense is the inability to consistently stop the run. Teams aren’t just grinding out the tough yardage between the tackles. They’re breaking through the Southern Miss defense for long runs.

In USM’s last three losses, teams have run the ball 105 times for 825 yards. That’s an impressive average of 7.9 yards a carry.

USM is giving up an average of 167 rushing yards this season, a number that has grown significantly in recent weeks.

Runs that should only be 8 to 10 yards against the Golden Eagles are becoming runs of 50 and 60.

USM has especially had problems stopping powerful running backs like the one it will see Saturday at ODU — junior Ray Lawry, who stands 5-foot-10 and weighs 204 pounds. He ran 27 times for 209 yards and a touchdown in last week’s 38-14 win over Marshall.

With injuries piling up on offense and issues on defense, the USM football season is trending badly in the wrong direction.

If USM is to revive what’s become a stagnant season, it has to start Saturday in Norfolk, Virginia.

Patrick Magee: 228-896-2333, @Patrick_Magee

Game plan

Who: Southern Miss vs. Old Dominion

When: 2:30 p.m., Saturday

Where: Norfolk, Va.

TV: WXXV-Fox

Radio: 104.9 FM

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