The most exciting matchup on the Southern Miss schedule will be Week 8 when the Golden Eagles host the Marshall Thundering Herd.
Last year, Southern Miss suffered a 32-10 loss to the Thundering Herd in Huntington, W.Va. Following the loss, Southern Miss won the last six games of the regular season to win the West Division of Conference USA. Marshall had the top defense in the conference a year ago, and the Thundering Herd will return several key players on the defensive line. Though Marshall’s top two linebackers from last season are gone, senior linebackers DeVontre’a Tyler and Shawn Petty return to fill the void. If a couple of playmakers step up in the Marshall secondary, the Thundering Herd could be a difficult team to score against in 2016.
Marshall’s offense is led by sophomore Chase Litton, who threw for 23 touchdown passes and eight interceptions last season as a true freshman. The 6’6, 207-pound Litton has the skills to be a top passer in the conference, but he is going to need some playmakers to emerge and help him out. Marshall will have to replace its top two receivers from last season, who combined for 114 catches and 1,420 yards.
The Herd will also have to replace running back Devon Johnson, who missed much of last season due to injury. The offensive line should be well-stocked with the return of 2014 first-team All-Conference USA tackle Clint Van Horn and center Michael Selby, who earned second-team All-Conference USA honors last season. This should be useful in developing a consistent run game, which will take pressure off of Litton.
Southern Miss certainly has the tools to score against the Marshall defense. Senior quarterback Nick Mullens rebounded after a rough start against Kentucky, and wide receiver Isaiah Jones emerged as Nick Mullens’ favorite deep threat, filling the void left by Michael Thomas. Running backs Ito Smith and George Payne also looked impressive in the 44-35 win over Kentucky. In a matchup that could possibly pit the conference’s best defense versus its best offense, I give Southern Miss the advantage. Southern Miss was a much better team after losing to Marshall last season, and the Golden Eagles are definitely looking to get even after last season’s embarrassing loss. I think the there is no way the Golden Eagles let Marshall get a win in The Rock.
My prediction of the game of the season for Southern Miss is the November 25th matchup against Louisiana Tech University.
While the matchup last year went the Golden Eagles way all 48 minutes, I feel the matchup this year will prove to be more competitive.
This season, both teams have dealt with losing a key offensive player and dealing with new faces on the sideline. Southern Miss is dealing with the departure of former offensive coordinator Chip Lindsey but does not fear much with the addition of Shannon Dawson, formerly with Kentucky, to replace Lindsey. La Tech mirrors the same situation as they cut ties with Tony Petersen and deal with the addition of Todd Fitch.
Former Southern Miss wide receiver, Mike Thomas accounted for 1,391 yards and 14 TD’s. His contributions to the Golden Eagles offense are one that head coach Jay Hopson might have a hard time filling but none the less can get it done. Last season, Thomas caught 7 rec for 162 yards and 1 TD. With Thomas gone, many would think that the Golden Eagles chances to win might decline, but La Tech also has lost a key component to their offense.
Quarterback Jeff Driskel threw for 4,033 yards and 27 TD’s for the Bulldogs last season. Driskel was selected in the sixth round by the Cincinnati Bengals and the Bulldogs are faced with comparable circumstances. While Mullens will be returning for the Golden Eagles, after his stellar season last year, he will be with many familiar faces like Ito Smith and Cameron Tom, just to name a few.
With so many similar scenarios playing roles on each sideline, this seasons matchup is looking to be interesting. With La Tech really having more to prove, I feel as if they cannot replace the product of former players. I feel as if Southern Miss will win by 14, 49-35.
After Week 1, the LSU game has solidified itself in becoming the biggest game of the season for the Golden Eagles. LSU’s chaotic problems will look to be the foot in the door the Golden Eagles need to beat LSU.
Wisconsin exposed LSU’s offensive problems, despite having Heisman candidate Leonard Fournette.
LSU has many demons that they will need to exercise or they could find their season in jeopardy. Their biggest problem is the quarterback position which Southern Miss’s defense can easily exploit.
By the time Southern Miss faces LSU, Brandon Harris may not even be the starting quarterback. If LSU’s passing game is failing, they will have to rely on their run game. The Golden Eagles do not have to stop Fournette and Derrius Guice; just slow them down and keep them out of the end zone. Southern Miss just needs to concentrate on stopping the run game like they did with Kentucky. Despite, LSU’s star receivers if their quarterback situation does not improve, which it should not, the run game is their only worry.
On the other side of the ball, the Southern Miss offense should be able to take apart the LSU defense, especially if they become frustrated as the game goes on. The offense’s ability to be effective in either the pass or run game will keep LSU on its toes. If Nick Mullens has a 300-yard game, it will silence Tiger Stadium and take away any fire LSU’s defense has left. The biggest key of the game is to keep the Golden Eagle offense on the field for as long as possible and utilize the offense.
If history is any indication of how this game could go then the odds are in favor of Southern Miss. Southern Miss has a reputation and history of being a giant killer and taking advantage of teams that overlook schools like Southern Miss. LSU has a polar opposite reputation which is overlooking teams like Southern Miss because of conference prestige.
When LSU plays Southern Miss they will be coming off a tough road game from Florida and then be trying to focus in on Ole Miss who they play after Southern Miss.
What looked to be a classic David and Goliath matchup in the preseason will now be more of a highly anticipated showdown rather than a potential blowout win for LSU. For every game of the season LSU is trying rebuild its reputation and prove their doubters wrong.
At the same time LSU head coach Les Miles will be fighting for his job with speculation suggesting that his job may be in jeopardy. Meanwhile, Southern Miss will be trying to prove that they can play with the bigger schools, which was shown against Kentucky.
The Golden Eagles have the right ingredients for a great season and although LSU is not an easy win it is definitely a winnable game. At this point it has become Southern Miss’ game to lose.
LSU, Marshall and Louisiana Tech are all viable games to pick as the game of the year for this season.
LSU will most likely come into the game ranked in the national polls because of all the talent on the team. As an added incentive for the Tigers, the game will be at night where USM will be walking into a trap at Death Valley in Baton Rouge.
Marshall is a tough game year in and year out. Last season with Todd Monken at the helm, Southern Miss traveled to Huntington, West Virginia to take on the Thundering Herd and lost 31-10. This year, the Golden Eagles will have the Thundering Herd at home looking for revenge.
La. Tech will be the finale of the season, which will be the biggest game of the season in most people’s eyes after USM traveled to Ruston, Louisiana last year thwarting the Bulldogs 58-24. But, Southern Miss will be ready for that game as it will probably be for the C-USA West Division crown.
My game of the year will belong to Sep. 24 when Southern Miss travels to El Paso, TX to take on the UTEP Miners.
Junior Aaron Jones was injured last year after starting the first two games of the season then going down on Sep. 12 against Texas Tech. Jones is the workhorse of the offense and will be looking for a bounce-back year after going down so early last season.
Jones was leading the nation in rushing yards after the first week of the season, for what it is worth, running all over New Mexico State in the season opener.
If a quarterback emerges from the Miner roster, this game could be a high-scoring affair. Not to predict that Southern Miss could lose, but this is one game that the Golden Eagles cannot look past.