The last time FIU head coach Ron Turner was in M.M. Roberts Stadium, it was a September 2002 match-up between his defending Big-Ten champion Illinois and the University of Southern Mississippi. Southern Miss defeated Turner’s Illini team 23-20.
Eleven years later the Golden Eagles are not the same program they once were, but they still plan to deliver Turner another loss at the Rock.
The Eagles’ three weeks on the road are finally over, and an opportunity to snap a 16-game losing streak at home presents itself in the form of a Florida International squad that is not only 0-4, but is also a new addition to Conference-USA. The Oct. 5 game will be the first 2013 C-USA game for both teams.
“Ultimately, your No. 1 goal is to try and win your conference,” Coach Monken said in his Sept. 30 press conference. “But we’re just looking to win a game, I don’t care who it’s against. It really doesn’t matter… It would be nice to be 1-0 in the league but really, at this point, it’s about us and how we play against FIU and trying to get a win.”
Though the Eagles have yet to win a game in the 2013 season, the stat comparison between USM and FIU looks promising.
Southern Miss has a strong running game compared to the FIU Panthers. The Golden Eagles have 307 net rushing yards so far this season and they will be playing a team that has allowed 937 rushing yards in the last four games. Not only could the Eagles run the ball effectively against the Panthers but they could just as easily pass. USM averages 224 passing yards per game and the Panthers’ defense has been torched through the air time and time again this season.
However, Southern Miss will need to be careful with the turnover problem. FIU has only lost the ball six times this year, whereas USM has turned the ball over 15 times.
“It’s frustrating,” Coach Monken said of the turnover issue. “The one thing we have corrected is the fumbling issue… The tough part is that turnovers are caused for a number of reasons. The quarterback is part of it. Protection is part of it. Receivers running a correct route is a part of it. Everybody has had a hand in that.”
The Southern Miss defense has been one of the team’s strong points thus far in the season, despite having given up over 1,500 total yards of offense and 162 points in their previous four games. Alan Howze, the senior middle linebacker, leads the defense with 38 tackles in the 2013 season. Now that Dylan Reda has recovered from his injury, the linebacker duo of Howze and Reda will help to stop an already stagnant FIU running game.
USM’s defense should hold up well against a Golden Panther team that has only reached 600 yards of total offense in 2013.
Both USM and FIU are coming off of losses to high-powered programs. Boise State dealt Southern Miss a 60-7 blowout in Idaho on Sept. 28. The weekend prior to the Southern Miss loss, No. 7 Louisville dealt FIU a 72-0 shutout.
“I don’t even know if we have a backs-against-the-wall mentality,” Monken said. “It’s a matter of playing good football and doing the things that give you a chance to win. I’m sure they (FIU) feel the same way, too. I’m sure they look at their games and say, ‘Boy, if we could have done these things. We can do this better.’ We’re in the same boat.”
Though Southern Miss lost the first game of the season at home, it was a close 22-15 contest against a formidable Texas State team. The defense held Texas State to 205 yards of offense. The USM defense will face an FIU offense that averages just 150 yards per game.
USM will be playing FIU with home-field advantage. After learning from mistakes and taking the field in front of a USM fan base hungry for the first win of 2013, USM may come away with its first victory since the 2011 season.
“The crowd was unbelievable,” Monken said of the game against Texas State. “I hope we have the same come this Saturday. That’s something that we can control as a program, as a group. We can control our fans that come out and support our team and support our players and university. It’s still about the event. It’s still about coming out and tailgating. It’s about Southern Miss football and being a part of hopefully our first win.”