On Saturday, Sept. 1, the Golden Eagles will face off with the Jackson State Tigers for just the third time in program history. If the first two contests were indicators of what to expect, the atmosphere at M.M. Roberts Stadium will be as electrifying as ever before when the two teams take the field.
Southern Miss won both of the previous meetings against Jackson State, both of which were played in Hattiesburg. The first game was played in 1987 in front of 33,678 fans ecstatic to see the two inner state teams face off for the first time, and the Golden Eagles won the memorable event by a score of 17-7. The second matchup between the Golden Eagles and the Tigers did not occur until 2002, but an even more impressive number of 35,169 fans showed up at The Rock to see what ended up being a blowout, 55-7 victory for Southern Miss. Sixteen years later, with both teams now under different regimes, local fans are expected to once again fill up the stadium to see this matchup for only the third time ever.
The Jackson State Tigers are coming off of a 3-8 season in 2017, Tony Hughes’ third year as head coach of the program. Although they showed high intensity and presented challenges often on the defensive side of the ball, the Tigers struggled on offense, averaging just 12.7 points per game and ranking 119th overall in FCS offensive production. The Tigers did end the year on a high note, however, winning three of their last four contests to build momentum entering the 2018 season. With a new offensive coordinator in town – former head coach at Kentucky, Hal Mumme, known for being a pioneer of the Air Raid style of offense – and JUCO transfer quarterback Derrick Ponder, the Tigers’ offense just might receive the jolt of energy their offense will desperately need to turn the ship around this fall.
Coach Hopson said preparation for the Tigers has been challenging, given their new personnel and new offensive system coming into this year.
“Offensively, Coach Mumme wasn’t there last year,” said Hopson, “so you’re looking at both. You have to look at film with Jackson State’s personnel and then you look at film from places he’s been. They have a lot of new faces on the defensive side of the ball as well, so you know this first week is always kind of a dance into the unknown. But I do see a very talented, well-coached football team, and we have to bring our A-game.”
As for the Golden Eagles, the team seems to have overcome a few offseason injury situations and expects to be at full strength on Saturday. “I feel like Trivenskey [Mosley], George [Payne], and all those guys are back and ready to roll,” said Hopson on Monday. “We got a little banged up in Week 2 of summer camp, but we’re getting healthier and healthier, so that’s good to see.”
Kickoff for the season opener between Southern Miss and Jackson State will be at 6:30 p.m. Central Time on Saturday evening. Coach Hopson and the players encourage all Golden Eagles fans to attend and show their support. For those unable to make it to The Rock, the game will be streamed live on ESPN+.