FACTS & STATS: Site: Joe Aillet Stadium (30,600) -- Ruston, Louisiana. Television: CBS Sports Network. Home Record: Southern Miss 0-3, Louisiana Tech 1-2. Away Record: Southern Miss 0-5, Louisiana Tech 2-2. Neutral Record: Southern Miss 0-0, Louisiana Tech 0-0. Conference Record: Southern Miss 0-4, Louisiana Tech 2-2. Series Record: Southern Miss leads, 31-13.
GAME NOTES: The Southern Miss Golden Eagles head to Joe Aillet Stadium with the longest active losing streak among FBS schools in tow, hoping to end the misery as they challenge the Louisiana Tech Bulldogs in a Conference USA tussle.
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. Things have gone sour in Hattiesburg since. The Golden Eagles lost all 12 of their games last season and are still winless through eight games in 2013. They were dominated in a one-sided affair for the third week in a row last Saturday when they fell, 61-13, to Marshall at Joan C. Edwards Stadium. The black and gold are averaging 31.8 less points per game than the opposition under first-year head coach Todd Monken.
Louisiana Tech is coming off an open week that followed its 23-7 win at FIU. The Bulldogs improved to 3-5 overall and climbed back to the .500 mark in the C-USA standings with the decision. A win would give coach Skip Holtz's team its first back-to-back triumphs in 2013 and leave it two wins away from becoming bowl eligible with three left to play.
USM will be making its first trip to Ruston since 2010 for its 45th meeting with the Bulldogs. The Eagles have won three straight in the series to build a 31-13 all-time series lead.
Monken elected to start freshman quarterback Nick Mullens for the second consecutive game last week, and although the result was undesirable, the rookie signal caller had a strong showing. Mullens connected on 24-of-48 pass attempts for a career-high 323 yards with one touchdown and one interception. The Golden Eagles have a decent aerial attack that is ranked sixth in the C- USA at 223.1 ypg. However, their rushing offense has been pitiful with only 2.7 yards per carry and 76.5 ypg. USM has scored only one rushing touchdown on the season.
The Golden Eagles own dismal offensive averages of 299.6 total yards and 12.8 points per game, both of which are second to last in the conference. The team showed some signs of life with the rookie under center last week. Markese Triplett caught four passes for 123 yards and a score to register the first 100-yard receiving game of his career while the team racked up 397 yards of total offense. Triplett is the most productive player offensively with 346 receiving yards and three touchdown catches.
USM's offense has outperformed a defense that gives up the third most points (44.8 ppg) nationally despite having two teams in the C-USA trailing it in yards allowed per game at 442.5 total yards. The team allowed Marshall to finish with 636 total yards last week. The Thundering Herd became the fifth team to reach 55 points on USM's defense this season. DeBarriaus Miller is pacing the team with 71 stops.
Due to the Golden Eagles' improvement with Mullens under center, they may be able to match Louisiana Tech, which is scoring only 19.5 ppg with 383.6 ypg. Although it is great to have a reliable kicker, it does not shed a positive light on the Bulldogs' offense that place kicker Kyle Fischer set the school record with five made field goals against FIU.
Louisiana Tech finished the contest with only 333 yards of total offense versus one the C-USA's most generous units. Kenneth Dixon continued his steady contributions with 119 yards on 23 attempts, but Ryan Higgins had a rough outing with only 192 yards and a touchdown against three interceptions. Higgins was only sacked twice, after being taken down at least three times in every previous game. Higgins has completed 61 percent of his throws for 1,311 yards, four touchdowns and five interceptions.
Dixon is averaging 87.2 rushing yards per game, but he has scored just three of the team's 10 rushing TDs. Tevin King (346 yards, 7.2 ypc) is a capable backup and Higgins can provide some yards with his legs as well. Andrew Guillot is the main option in the aerial attack with 320 yards and two scores on 26 catches. He is averaging 40 receiving yards per game while D.J. Banks is second on the squad at just 24.6 ypg.
The Bulldogs have put themselves in position for a late run to the postseason by holding strong on the defensive side of the ball. Louisiana Tech is fifth in the C-USA in points allowed (24.5 ppg) and two slots lower in total defense (389.6 ypg). It has registered 21 sacks, which is not a good sign for USM's inexperienced passer. Daniel Cobb is the anchor to the defense with 62 tackles, nine TFL, 1.5 sacks and a forced fumble.
Louisiana Tech will need to convert its drives into six points rather than three more often down the line. USM is bound to win a game at some point, so the Bulldogs better beware of an upset if Mullens continues to progress. Dixon should be able to carry the hosts to the victory, although this game will be a lot closer than USM's recent results.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Louisiana Tech 30, Southern Miss 21
Saturday, November 9, 7:00 p.m. (et)