The Southern Miss football team is on its way back to the top, but not without its bumps and bruises.
“I thought our guys played awfully hard tonight,” coach Todd Monken said. “But are we going to be consistent. Are we going to
On Sept. 5, Southern Miss held a record crowd of 36,641 fans against Mississippi State; but, that crowd fell down to 23,042 against Austin Peay. The in-state rivalry between Mississippi State and USM is well documented and the rivalry spans generations. For Austin Peay and Southern Miss, it was the fi rst time the two programs met on the gridiron.
After the Golden Eagles dismantled Austin Peay 52-6, the buzz coming out of the game should have been seen as positive. The defense held the Governors to only 189 total offensive yards, combined with three sacks. Nick Mullens threw for over 250 yards on offense and the ground game produced 239 yards rushing. So why isn’t the game looked at as positive for the Golden Eagle fandom?
“I didn’t come here to be the head coach to have that kind of showing today by our fan base,” Monken said. “Is our fan base going to be a thermometer or a thermostat?”
The Golden Eagles had to rise up to the occasion and play a tough game against the Bulldogs, in which they proved they have the potential to make noise this season. The challenge was to follow up that effort this weekend against the Generals. “A thermostat controls its surroundings,” Monken said. “A thermometer goes up and own and we don’t control our surroundings.”
Harshly, coach Monken took a direct stab at Golden Eagle fans. But can he blame them for staying home while they play such a weak opponent? The average attendance last season was 24,335 people in the stadium. The most attended game was opening weekend against Alcorn State, in which the attendance was 26,448.
“Fans are fair weather,” said defensive lineman Dylan Bradley. “They come when they want to, they leave when they want to.”
In the offseason, there was an abundance of hype growing for the opening weekend against Mississippi State. It was the first time that the Bulldogs visited Hattiesburg since 1989. To follow that was going to be hard to match for any opponent. With home games against North Texas, UTSA, UTEP and Old Dominion left this season, it will be hard to intrigue fans to attend the games.
“Are they going to be a part of this to the top, or not?” Monken said. “That’s what I bought into, The Rock and our fan base showing up and supporting our team that’s fought like hell for three years to get to this point.”
The journey back to the top is not without its notable names. Over 20 recruits are transfers, with some coming from programs like Michigan, Miami, TCU and Auburn. Coach Zac Woodfin comes to Hattiesburg after coaching UAB from 2-10 to 6-6.
Even coach Monken spent time with the Jacksonville Jaguars and LSU, before mentoring star wide receiver Dez Bryant while he played at Oklahoma State. Monken has the pedigree to challenge his fans through his diversity of environments. “We come back to play North Texas, (if) they want to see this program get back to the top, we need everybody,” Monken said. “Myself, our players and our fan base.”
While he may not influence the average fan to wake up for these games, Monken’s message definitely hit some nerves in the Southern Miss fan base.