The Southern Miss Golden Eagles will square off Saturday night at 5 p.m. against an old, familiar foe in Alabama. The Golden Eagles will enter the game with a little more confidence after notching a home victory against Alcorn State last Saturday.
“For our players, for our coaches and for our fans, getting a win here was critical especially with the atmosphere here,” said head coach Todd Monken. “Winning cures a lot of things.”
Although Southern Miss and Alabama have not faced off in nearly a decade, the hate is still strong between the two programs. Both Emmanuel Johnson and Nick Mullens are from the state of Alabama and it will be a personal game for them.
“When I came out of high school, they never showed me much attention. I will definitely be playing with a chip on my shoulder,” Johnson said. “It’s personal.”
Johnson had a big play last week as he batted down a late pass attempted by Alcorn to seal the victory for the Golden Eagles and has been a key cog in the secondary since arriving on campus as a freshman.
Things have certainly changed since last time both teams met. In 2005 when they played, Jeff Bower was Southern Miss’ head coach and Mike Shula was the Crimson Tide’s head coach. Both coaches have since retired.
The Crimson Tide led the all-time series against Southern Miss 33-6-2. However, most of those wins have been near upsets by the Golden Eagles.
In 2005, Alabama narrowly escaped with a 30-21 win thanks to the infamous Tyrone Prothro catch right before halftime.
Late heroics are something Alabama has not needed in a long time. They have added three BCS national championships in the Nick Saban era and look to add another this year.
However, the Tide has looked vulnerable so far especially in their secondary. The losses of first rounder safety, Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, and Vinnie Sunseri have hit the Tide hard this season.
In their first game, the West Virginia Mountaineers torched Alabama through the air for 365 yards passing. Quarterback Nick Mullens hopes to take advantage of the Tide’s poor secondary, especially coming off a huge game against Alcorn. Mullens passed for over 200 yards and two touchdowns in the win.
Monken does not see the Tide’s secondary as a weakness, but still hopes his team can take advantage like West Virginia did.
“I don’t see it that way,” Monken said. “You watch the West Virginia game and you see that one receiver for them just go up and make plays. They’re physical; they’re physical when they want to press you and when they come up in run support. They have always done that.”
For the Golden Eagles to get a win, they will have to do something that has been a struggle for them over the last two-plus years: dominate the line of scrimmage.
The Crimson Tide is not as experienced along the defensive line or offensive line this season and Southern Miss will have to establish some sort of dominance with their running game to beat the Tide.
For the defensive line this game, they will have to play one of their best games so far. It’ is no secret Alabama wants to run the football. With a dual running back tandem featuring Derrick Henry and TJ Yeldon, the Golden Eagles will have to slow the deadly combo down in order to keep up with the Tide.
Defensive linemen Nunez-Roches, Michael Smith, Dasman McCullum and Adam Williams lead the way up front and have been the backbone of the defense so far. However, linebackers Brian Anderson and Alan Howze will have the most responsibility in the game against the Tide.
Not only will they have to provide run support, but will also have to keep an eye on dual-threat quarterback, Blake Sims, while also helping out in pass coverage. Spur linebacker David Bertucci is questionable to play after sustaining an injury.
The secondary will ask to slow down the consensus number one receiver in the country, Amari Cooper. Cooper will be the toughest test this season for the still improving Golden Eagle secondary.
Junior Kalan Reed will be matched up against Cooper. Reed has been very impressive in the early going and hopes to extend his streak of consecutive games with an interception to four.
Safeties Jacorius Cotton and Emmanuel Johnson will not be able to keep their eyes in the backfield this game with the looming threat of Cooper, which will make the front seven’s job that much harder.
On paper, it is clear that Alabama is the far superior team, but USM is hoping to get off to a fast start in order to truly make this game a test for the Crimson Tide.
This could be a bit of a trap game for the Tide as Saban only briefly mentioned the game against Southern Miss this weekend in his weekly press conference. Much of the focus was on the progression of his own team and the Tide’s quarterback situation.
It may seem uncharacteristic for a Saban-led team to overlook any opponent, but his press conference definitely indicated his team and coaching staff might be doing just that.
The game will broadcast nationally on ESPN2. Kickoff is set for 5 p.m. in Tuscaloosa, Alabama.