Tough test awaits Southern Miss against Louisville on Saturday
Published: Thursday, September 27, 2012
Updated: Thursday, September 27, 2012 00:09
On Monday, Southern Miss head football coach Ellis Johnson spoke at a press conference following the Golden Eagles’ loss to Western Kentucky last Saturday.
“Special teams continue to be at least solid and sometimes extremely bright. We got some good returns. We didn’t have any disasters occur.”
However, the same was not said about the offensive and defensive sides of the ball. The Eagles are three games into the season and only have one phase of the game under control.
Southern Miss currently ranks 115th out of 120 Football Bowl Subdivision teams in total yards per game, is tied for 113th in points per game and ranks 116th in pass yards per game. They currently rank behind triple-option teams Georgia Tech and the Naval Academy in passing yards per game.
Defensively, the Golden Eagles rank 113th in points allowed per game; four of the seven teams ranked lower also happen to be C-USA members. They also rank 118th in opponents third down conversion percentage and 111th in opponents rush yards per game. Southern Miss is allowing 5.5 yards per rush this season.
The test will not get any easier this week, as top-20 ranked Louisville will visit Hattiesburg. The Cardinals are led by sophomore quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, who has already passed the 1,000-yard passing mark with four games under his belt this season. Bridgewater currently ranks 43rd in the nation in total offense, one spot above Nebraska quarterback Taylor Martinez, and is ranked in the top 30 in the categories of pass efficiency and passing. On Monday, Defensive Coordinator Tommy West likened the Louisville quarterback’s play to a fifth-year senior.
The Eagles will likely counter Bridgewater with their third different starting quarterback in four games. A neck injury to Chris Campbell and a knee injury to Anthony Alford could pave the way for redshirt freshman Ricky Lloyd to make his first career start. Lloyd has seen action in two games this season, completing 50 percent of his passes. Against Western Kentucky, Lloyd came in and completed four of his five attempts for 72 yards and a touchdown.
The offense has been inconsistent, but the most important improvement will need to be made by the Eagle defense.
“We did what I really hoped we wouldn’t do: take a step back,” West said at the press conference Monday. “We didn’t tackle well. That style [of offense Western Kentucky ran] really bothers us right now, and we’re going to see some of the same stuff this week. We have to tackle better; that’ll help a lot.”
Southern Miss will see a similar running attack from Louisville as they saw last weekend. Western Kentucky used a combination of Antonio Andrews and Leon Allen, who both rushed for more than 100 yards to tear apart the Eagle defense. This week, the Cardinals will turn to junior running back Senorise Perry and Jeremy Wright. Perry averages 85 rushing yards per game, while Wright averages just over 76.
This week’s boost for the offense could come from wide receiver Tracey Lampley who moved into third place all time in all-purpose yards at Southern Miss last weekend. Lampley has touched the ball a total of seven times in the three games this season. He has also averaged just 27 yards receiving and zero yards on the ground in the first three games. His biggest impact has been seen on special teams, where Lampley has average 19 yards per punt return and 37 yards on kickoffs.
“If I had the ball in my hand, I could make something happen,” Lampley said after the game against Western Kentucky.
“This is a big time challenge,” Johnson said. “It’s a big time opportunity. It’s what you come to college football and play for.”
How the Eagles look Saturday will go a long way to show how well this season ends up. As of now, Southern Miss’s winning record and bowl game streak seem to be in jeopardy.