Southern Miss will find itself in a familiar position entering this weekend’s Homecoming game after losing to East Carolina 55-14. The Golden Eagles felt the sting of a tough overtime loss to UCF before falling to Marshall 59-24 at the 2012’s Homecoming game. Southern Miss will attempt to avoid repeating last year’s performance and end the 18-game losing streak that began Sept. 2012.
“We’ve moved on from last week’s game against East Carolina, and our focus is now on a really good North Texas team,” Coach Todd Monken said in his weekly press conference. “They’re a tough, physical defense that plays hard, that chases the ball. Their offense is physical. It’s going to be a real challenge.”
North Texas is coming off a two-game winning streak, outscoring Middle Tennessee and Louisiana Tech 62-20 to improve to 4-3 overall and 2-1 in Conference USA play. The Mean Green are in the top three in C-USA for total yards, total yards passing and yards passing per game while averaging 28.4 points per game.
The weight of the offense for Southern Miss will be on the shoulders of true freshman Nick Mullens after being named the starter for the black-out game.
“What Nick showed us Saturday was his ability to create when things break down,” Monken said. “I think Nick will play well.”
Mullens entered the ECU game in the second quarter Saturday and completed nine of 17 passes for 97 yards, two touchdowns and an interception. Mullens becomes one of six possible freshmen to start on offense next week.
“They’re going to only get better,” Monken said when asked about the inexperienced squad. “I see that on a daily basis in practice. The more reps they get, the more comfortable they get, and the more confident they get.”
Freshmen players have been the catalysts to Monken’s offense. Receiver Marquise Ricard caught one of Southern Miss’ 11 receptions for a touchdown against ECU. However, leading receiver Tyre’oune Holmes wasn’t targeted.
Time of possession will be crucial and revolve around running the ball effectively. Southern Miss’ three-player running back corps of Tyre Bracken, Jalen Richard and George Payne was able to generate 110 yards on the ground on 28 carries.
Southern Miss’ defense will focus more on preventing North Texas from converting third downs, something the unit struggled with against ECU. ECU converted 11 of its 17 third-down attempts.
“There are a number of things we can improve on,” Monken said after being asked about the team’s inability to hold opponents on third downs. “We’ve got to do a better job, I know. Getting a better pash rush, coverage, forcing longer yardage situations will all lend themselves to that.”
Southern Miss’ defense, led by defensive linemen Octavius Thomas and Adam William’s two sacks each, will look to improve its pass rush on the quarterback. The Eagles are 12th in C-USA with eight sacks. Southern Miss is also tied for 10th in C-USA with three defensive interceptions.
As for North Texas, the stout defense is tied for fourth in C-USA with 15 sacks and tied for fifth with eight interceptions.
“What they do, they do well,” Monken said when addressing the Mean Green defense. “They don’t do a lot until you get to third downs and then they’ll get after you a little bit. Other than that, they’re a four-down team that wants to play simple coverages.”
The atmosphere at The Rock will be loud as fans black out the stands for the 2013 Homecoming game and cheer for their team to finally put a mark in the win column.