It has been 24 years since the Golden Eagles faced off against in-state rival Mississippi State. The last game, in 1990, ended in a loss for the Golden Eagles, but they still lead the all-time series 14-12-1 dating back to 1935.
While just another game to head coach Todd Monken, the players view it differently as many of them have been watching game film of the Bulldogs since the season ended a year ago.
“It’s Mississippi State, and it’s 24 years in the making,” said senior linebacker Alan Howze. “It’s a big game, especially coming off the win against UAB. It’s like the reemergence of Southern Miss football and it’s a big game for us.”
While it may seem odd for a team to start watching film of an opponent that far away, Monken understands why his players were so determined to get an early jump on studying MSU.
“A number of these kids were recruited by them, and they know a lot of their players,” Monken said. “But I think anybody to start the season off, and getting a chance to get an advanced look at your opponent, is common.”
The game will be an early test for both teams as they look to build from where they left off in 2013. For the Bulldogs, they became bowl-eligible with a come-from-behind win over rival Ole Miss and then dominated Conference USA champion Rice, 44-7, in the Liberty Bowl. As for Southern Miss, they snapped their infamous 23-game losing streak with a 62-27 win over UAB.
The win was especially big for the Southern Miss offense, which struggled all year. The Golden Eagles hope they can continue that success against a talented and loaded Mississippi State defense.
“They’re an SEC front. Their linebackers are pretty physical,” Monken said. “Their guys up front play hard. They’re hard to block. That’s evident.”
The stars of that defense include Pre-Season All-SEC linebacker Benardrick McKinney and defensive end Chris Jones. There is a weakness in the Bulldog defense though, with their pass defense ranking 65th last year.
Luckily for Southern Miss, their offense is made to take advantage of a weak secondary with precision. Pocket passer Nick Mullens will test the Bulldogs through the air.
Returning along with Mullens are his two favorite targets, Markese Triplett and Tyre’oune Holmes. Holmes finished the year with back-to-back games with a touchdown catch and was All-Conference USA Honorable Mention as a true freshman.
The USM defense will have a different task to tackle, though, in facing Mississippi State. The Bulldogs return dual-threat quarterback Dak Prescott who led them to two straight wins to end their season.
Also returning is the Bulldogs’ leading wide receiver, Jameon Lewis. Lewis will be one of the more versatile players on the field as he totaled 64 receptions for 923 yards and five touchdowns. Lewis also rushed for three touchdowns and passed for three.
He should provide a great test for USM’s senior-laden secondary that includes Emmanuel Johnson and Jacorius Cotton. Youngsters Kalan Reed and Picasso Nelson, Jr., are going to have to grow up rather quickly on the outside this week or it will be a long day for the USM defense.
Kickoff is Saturday, Aug. 30 at Davis Wade Stadium in Starkville, Mississippi.