They are who we did not think they were.
Southern Miss started 4-1, then stumbled to a 7-6 finish line after dropping several contests against Texas-San Antonio, Charlotte and others.
An LSU loss was expected. The contest against Troy was a toss-up as the Trojans had just played Clemson in a close six-point loss. But all of the other games, the Golden Eagles had better than a fighter’s chance.
In the same season where Southern Miss can overcome a 25-point deficit to defeat Kentucky, they lost 55-31 to Texas-San Antonio in a game that no one saw by nothing else than a sure victory. Then, there was the Rice contest where the Golden Eagles shattered all kinds of offensive records. But then, they can only put 10 points up against LSU after scoring on the opening drive.
This team had no identity, but made it happen when the time was dire.
“I think the guys did a good job in critical situations,” said Head Coach Jay Hopson. “There’s no team I’ve ever been prouder of. The chips are cashed. This is a team that battled through a lot.”
This team is not the Southern Miss of the preseason, where hopes of being undefeated (or one loss against LSU) were the only predetermined outcomes that anyone could have seen. That season quickly dissolved into something that no one saw coming, as the Golden Eagles had to cash in all of their chips to even get them to bowl eligibility at 6-6.
“It’s been a long four years of starting at the bottom,” said senior quarterback Nick Mullens. “Really just proud of the way that we finished strong. To end it like this, I couldn’t have asked for anything better.”
It was all going to come down to the bowl game that the Golden Eagles perhaps had no chance of being in anyways. The Golden Eagles handled their business by beating Louisiana Tech 39-24 in the regular season finale. Louisiana-Lafayette had to do the same thing as it came down to the rivalry game against Louisiana-Monroe, defeating them 30-3. Again, this team’s identity was a murky one as no one knew which Golden Eagle team would show up.
Would it be the team that can dominate Kentucky and Rice, or the team that can draw blanks against LSU and Charlotte? The questions came pouring in for Hopson, who was jubilated at just the opportunity to even be in the position of bowl eligibility.
“We were in our darkest hour, and everybody on this football team came out with a positive attitude,” Hopson said. “I’m just blessed to be a part of these young men. It’s been a long, tough road but a great finish.”
To me, this Golden Eagle team has no identity. They are not a passing team, not necessarily a running team. The defense may have held teams to 331 total yards on defense on average, but still give up a vast amount of points on the scoreboard.
Nick Mullens was hurt for a 2.5 game stretch, and true freshman Keon Howard had to fill in the role of offensive star, but a turnover-prone debut did not lead his Golden Eagles to any wins. An almost entirely new coaching staff had to piece together what Todd Monken left behind in his 9-5 season.
These Golden Eagles did not need an identity to get their goals done as they captured their first bowl victory in five years. Although the Golden Eagles do not have an undefeated season or a conference championship, they have laid a foundation for the future of the Southern Miss program with Hopson at the helm.
Cash those chips in.