FACTS & STATS: Site: Joan C. Edwards Stadium (38,227) -- Huntington, West Virginia. Television: CBSSN. Home Record: USM 0-3, MU 3-0. Away Record: USM 0-4, MU 1-3. Neutral Record: USM 0-0, MU 0-0. Conference Record: USM 0-3, MU 2-1. Series Record: Southern Miss leads, 5-3.
GAME NOTES: The Southern Miss Golden Eagles will try earn their first win since the 2011 campaign as they visit Joan C. Edwards Stadium for a Conference USA matchup against the Marshall Thundering Herd.
Southern Miss was crowned the C-USA champion at the end 2011 regular season and went on to defeat Nevada in the Hawaii Bowl on Dec. 24, 2011 to arrive at a 10-2 overall finish. The Golden Eagles have not experienced a victory since. They lost all 12 of their games last season and are still winless through seven games in 2013. Their current 19-game streak of setbacks is the longest active losing streak among FBS programs. The black and gold are averaging 29.7 less points per game than the opposition under first-year head coach Todd Monken.
Marshall's overall record dropped to 4-3 last Thursday as Middle Tennessee scored a touchdown on the final play of the game to claim a 51-49 victory. The loss dropped the Thundering Herd to a 2-1 C-USA standing. Their hopes of making a trip to this year's conference championship are still very much alive as they trail ECU by only a half-game in the East Division race. Coach Doc Holliday's team has come out of its last five games at Joan C. Edwards Stadium on top, giving the Thundering Herd their longest home winning streak since the 2008.
The Golden Eagles hold a 5-3 all-time series lead over Marshall. The Thundering Herd narrowed the deficit last season with a 59-24 rout of USM in Hattiesburg in 2012.
After suffering a 55-14 setback at East Carolina in week eight, Monken tried to give his squad a spark and benched senior quarterback Allan Bridgford in favor of true freshman Nick Mullens for USM's bout against North Texas last week. Monken's roster configuration did not make any difference as the Golden Eagles lost to the Mean Green, 55-14, the exact result as their previous outing. USM is ranked 120th among 123 FBS programs in scoring at 12.7 ppg. It is one of only eight teams in the nation averaging less than 300 yards of total offense per game.
In his first career start, Mullens' inexperience showed as he threw three interceptions and was sacked four times. The rookie signal caller connected on only 12-of-31 pass attempts for 210 yards and one touchdown. USM's leading receiver, Tyre'oune Holmes, was limited to only two catches for 23 yards in the loss. Holmes has reeled in a team-best 34 catches on the season, but is netting only 7.3 yards per reception and has yet to find the end zone. Rickey Bradley has amassed 277 yards on only 14 receptions. Jalen Hardy (231 yards) is the leading rusher for the Golden Eagles but he has not had more than 50 yards in four straight games. Although USM tallied just 39 yards on 21 attempts versus the Mean Green its last time out, it did finally manage to score its first rushing touchdown of the season early in the third quarter.
The Golden Eagles are just as poor defensively with allowed averages of 414.9 total yards and 42.3 points per game. Despite forcing four turnovers last week, USM still surrendered 529 total yards to UNT, which became the fourth team to reach the 55-point mark against Monken's squad this season. Dylan Reda registered a career-high 14 tackles in the loss. DeBarriaus Miller is still pacing the team with 67 stops on the season.
The Golden Eagles will have trouble stopping their opponent once again this week as Marshall enters with C-USA leading averages of 450 total yards and 38 points per tilt. Junior quarterback Rakeem Cato had a decent showing in last week's loss at Middle Tennessee, with 235 yards and three touchdowns on 19- of-35 passing. He has thrown a touchdown pass in 25 consecutive games, which is just one shy of Chad Pennington's program record. He has completed 58.6 percent of his pass attempts for 1,807 yards and 15 touchdowns against six interceptions on the campaign.
Cato often looks in the direction of his former high school teammate, Tommy Shuler, who is pacing the Herd in receiving with 517 yards on 49 catches. Senior tight end Gator Hoskins has proven himself as a red zone threat with 19 career touchdown grabs.
Marshall led the FBS in passing offense in 2012, but it is ranked 37th nationally this season at 270.9 ypg due to a more balanced approach. As a result, senior tailback Essray Taliaferro has already surpassed his previous career best single-season rushing total with 502 yards and five touchdowns on 112 carries. Taliaferro and Kevin Grooms scored two touchdowns apiece versus MT.
Marshall has made huge strides on the defensive side of the ball under Chuck Heater in his first season as the team's defensive coordinator. The unit leads the nation in terms of improvement in scoring defense compared to the 2012 campaign (20.1 fewer points allowed per contest). Although the Thundering Herd are atop the C-USA leaderboard in total defense (339.1 ypg) and are second to UNT with only 23 points allowed per game, they will need to rebuild their confidence after being torched for 585 total yards to the Blue Raiders in last week's shootout. Middle Tennessee rushed 60 times for 313 yards. Although the defense struggled as a whole, Evan McKelvey had a strong showing with 12 tackles including two TFL.
After being upset by the Blue Raiders, the Thundering Herd will approach their bout against the struggling Golden Eagles with a sense of urgency. Monken's squad is clearly lacking leadership on both sides of the ball. Mullens will not be able to follow the blueprint the Blue Raiders used to down Marshall last week unless his offensive line manages to turn the corner. USM's lack of firepower will make it virtually impossible for it to prevent Cato and the Marshall offense from pulling away.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Marshall 45, Southern Miss 17
Saturday, November 2, 12:00 p.m. (et)