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Sports Preview: Southern Miss aims to win “The Battle for...

Preview: Southern Miss aims to win “The Battle for the Bell”

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After two tough losses to begin the season, Southern Miss looks to earn its first win this Saturday in the renewal of The Battle for the Bell, a long-lasting rivalry against the Tulane Green Wave.

Southern Miss will face Tulane for the 33rd time in school history. The schools last met in the 2020 Armed Forces Bowl, which Tulane won 30-13. Southern Miss holds the advantage in the series, however, with a 23-9 record versus Tulane. 

Last week, both teams lost in stunning fashion by blowing double-digit leads. Tulane was up 24-0 against Navy and allowed 27 unanswered points to fall, with a 1-1 so far in this season. Southern Miss established a 17-point lead against Louisiana Tech, but ended up losing by one point after the Bulldogs completed the comeback on a fourth and goal touchdown with 14 seconds left. 

Despite starting the season 0-2, Southern Miss looks to build momentum under Interim Head Coach Scotty Walden’s leadership. After Walden’s first game as coach, quarterback Jack Abraham noted the team’s change in energy.

“The overall energy on the sidelines was the best since I’ve been here,” Abraham said.

Defensive back Malik Shorts agreed with Abraham and explained how it affects the team’s play.

“I feel exactly the same way that he did and that just really takes our game to another level,” Shorts said. “That makes us fly faster, play even harder and [bring] more energy. As long as we got the sideline and the crowd into the game and just pumping us up […,] we feel that adrenaline pumping through our body and we’re ready to make a play.” 

Southern Miss will look to replicate the same energy come Saturday. This week will be the last of three consecutive home games to begin the season, with the next sending the team to North Texas. 

While Southern Miss faced a lot of unexpected changes this season, the team has also shined and improved in many areas. Its passing game, for one, has improved a lot. Abraham threw for 264 yards and three touchdowns against Louisiana Tech. Through two games, Abraham has thrown for 578 yards, accounting for 72% of the team’s total offense.

To continue the passing game’s success against Tulane, Southern Miss will hope to have receiver Tim Jones on the field again. Jones left the game in the middle of the third quarter with an injury after catching eight passes for 160 yards and two touchdowns. Despite the early end to his last game, Jones currently leads the nation in receiving, with 299 receiving yards.

Despite struggles in their running game during the first week, Southern Miss noticeably improved it last game. Running back Don Ragsdale had the heaviest workload, but shared carries with fellow running backs Frank Gore Jr. and Kevin Perkins. The trio of backs notched 130 rushing yards and nearly six yards per carry last week, which was a considerable improvement from their 2.5 yards per carry average from the first game. The matchup versus Tulane’s defense could prove to be tough for Southern Miss’ backs, though. Tulane’s run defense has only allowed opponent runners to average three yards per carry.

Through the first two games, Southern Miss’ defense has allowed 907 yards and eight touchdowns. While the numbers may not show it, The Nasty Bunch looked dominant last week after halftime. The defensive front started to apply pressure and forced an interception on Louisiana Tech’s first drive of the second half. After the game, Walden talked about the importance of improving consistency on the line. 

“We got to find a way to do that for four quarters, obviously be more consistent with that, because when we got pressure on the quarterback, great things happened,” Walden said. “That’s what we got to continue to stress up front.”

Former Southern Miss quarterback Keon Howard is the starting quarterback for Tulane. This season, Howard has a 43.6% completion percentage, no touchdowns and one interception. While Tulane’s passing offense has struggled, the team has relied on its ground game. Tulane Running back Tyjae Spears has started his season with two consecutive 100-yard rushing games and, while fellow Tulane RB Cameron Carrol has scored four rushing touchdowns. Southern Miss will also have to account for Howard as a dual-threat quarterback who has the capability to run the ball if need be.

If Southern Miss’ defense can stop a Tulane offense that has only converted three of 23 third downs, then the offense should have plenty more opportunities to score than what has been seen so far this season. This, however, will call for an improvement in the defense’s third down performance. So far, Southern Miss has allowed opponents to complete 60% of third downs. 

Walden noted his desire to improve the team’s third-down defensive performance from the last game.

“Defensively, I just feel like we got to tackle in critical moments and I feel like we got to get off the field on third downs […Louisiana Tech] was 10 out of 16 on third downs,” said Walden

The defense also hopes to replicate some of its success with last week’s standout performances from linebacker Santrell Latham and defensive back Malik Shorts. Both players led the team in tackles last week, with 14 apiece. Latham also had 1.5 sacks and an interception.

The Battle for the Bell will return to the regular season for the first time since 2010 and promises to be an exciting game. Kickoff will be at 1:30 P.M. on Saturday at M.M. Roberts Stadium.

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