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Florida Atlantic (FAU) vs. Southern Miss Football Prediction and Preview

Florida Atlantic (FAU) vs. Southern Miss Football Prediction and Preview

Florida Atlantic (FAU) vs. Southern Miss Football Prediction and Preview

One Conference USA program is looking to the future. The other is thinking in terms of right now.

While the Florida Atlantic Owls look to finish strong in Willie Taggart's first season at the helm, the Southern Miss Golden Eagles have rolled out the carpet for a new head coach heading into Thursday night's meeting of rivals.

Will Hall, who was announced Monday as the man with the school's next plan, will take over the reins from a 2020 parade of sideline bosses — both the departed Jay Hopson and subsequent interims — next season.

"He is a guy that gets it done," Southern Miss athletic director Jeremy McClain told reporters. "Will Hall definitely checked the box when it comes to 'it' factor... There's an old saying, winners win. And everywhere Will Hall has ever been, he has won."

Most recently, he's helped Tulane — as offensive coordinator — become a factor in C-USA play.

"There are no excuses," Hall told reporters. "We have the resources here to be special. We've got to band together because we're a little frayed right now. I've got a vision. I've got a detailed plan. We've got to grab this rope and pull together."

Good thing, because there's a lot of mud on Southern Miss these days.

Two months after originally being slated, the rescheduled game between C-USA squads will finally be held at M.M. Roberts Stadium in Hattiesburg, with the home side amid a miserable run.

The Eagles are just 1-4 since the original Oct. 10 game was postponed between the two teams, 2-7 overall and just 1-4 in conference action. To boot, their last two games have been canceled due to COVID-19 issues, meaning they last took the field for action on Nov. 21.

Florida Atlantic, meanwhile, managed to get in its Week 14 game after having one postponed two weeks back. But that didn't go well in a 20-3 road loss last Saturday to Georgia Southern, which snapped a four-game win string and handed the Owls only their second defeat of the year.

"We always say, we have 24 hours to deal with whatever it is — whether it's a win or loss — and then we have to move on," Taggart told reporters. "Having a short week, you kind of move onto the other team a little quicker. That helps. It also helps knowing what you have to play for. Our guys understand that. The better understanding they need is learning from the failure and making sure we don't make the same mistakes we made last week."

That game being the exception, it's been a good year for Taggart's team, which sports a healthy 5-2 record overall and a 4-1 mark in C-USA play, although it won't be enough to give the Owls a shot at defending their conference championship. Marshall, which also is 4-1 in the East, claimed the division on Wednesday when the Thundering Herd's scheduled game on Friday against Charlotte was canceled due to COVID-19 issues. Marshall beat FAU in October, giving the Herd the tiebreaker and the division title.

Florida Atlantic at Southern Miss

Kickoff: Thursday, Dec. 10 at 6:30 p.m. ET

TV: CBS Sports Network

Spread: Florida Atlantic -8.5

When Florida Atlantic Has the Ball

Taggart watched his team commit a season-high four turnovers last week and allow a special-teams touchdown — off a punt return — for the first time on the campaign. That led to the program's first game in four years without a touchdown — and, of course, the loss.

The biggest culprit of not taking care of the ball was quarterback Javion Posey, who fumbled once and threw two interceptions in his third career start. That brought on veteran Nick Tronti, who started the team's first four games of 2020, to replace the redshirt freshman, but the junior pivot didn't fare much better in helping the Owls produce. While Posey went a pedestrian 7-of-15 for 107 yards and 61 more on the ground, Tronti was 7-of-13 for 82 passing yards and 16 rushing yards.

The question now is who gets the call against Southern Miss.

Posey was the only guy in the Owls backfield to shake loose in the run game against Georgia Southern. James Charles managed just 42 yards on 12 carries, fellow senior Willie Wright had just two carries, and junior Malcolm Davidson was given the ball just once.

All told, FAU collected 133 rushing yards on the game, when it's used to piling up nearly 200. So Taggart will want to re-establish the ground attack. Thing is, Posey's put up the best numbers in that regard with team-highs in yards (393), average per carry (7.3) and TDs (3) in limited action.

"Javion's going to be fine," Taggart told reporters. "Those mistakes he had (last Saturday) are things that are correctable, and he's got to correct them."

Watch for Posey to get the start, but Taggart says both QBs could play. And whoever is throwing the ball, look for receiver TJ Chase to continue being the top target. Even in the loss, the senior caught a team-high four passes for 54 yards. His 328 receiving yards on 21 catches lead all teammates.

If the Owls offense can rediscover its feet quickly, the Southern Miss defense — which is allowing 410.1 yards per game — will have its hands full.

When Southern Miss Has the Ball

Lane Kiffin left Florida Atlantic. So Frank Gore Jr. opted instead to take his talented bloodline to Southern Miss. That makes the son of an NFL veteran running back a sidebar for the C-USA contest between the school to which Gore Jr. first committed and the program he eventually chose for his burgeoning NCAA career.

The hype on freshman running back Gore Jr. is real, as he's rumbled for 597 yards and a 5.3-yard average on 112 rushes season-long for the Golden Eagles.

But they need more from the offense, especially against an FAU defense that's allowing just 12.4 points per game — third overall in FBS — and just a shade under 300 yards total a contest — sixth stingiest in the nation.

That job falls on quarterback Trey Lowe III, who's making his third start in a parade of Southern Miss QBs which has been affected by injury, COVID, and transfer plans.

In an ugly 10-7 loss to WKU during his last appearance one month ago, Lowe proved ineffective with a 6-for-14, 67-yard, 15.4 passer rating performance. Just as unproductive was his 12 yards rushing on 13 carries.

But the sophomore gets the call with Tate Whatley downed by injury (strained throwing shoulder) and Jack Abraham on the way out through the transfer portal.

Lowe hopes to get the ball to any or all of the team's four main targets — junior Jason Brownlee with a team-high 529 yards on 31 catches, senior Tim Jones with 415 on 24, Demarcus Jones with 265 on 29, and Antoine Robinson with 221 on 23.

And, really, he needs to do it often if the team hopes to upset FAU.

Final Analysis

There's nothing left but pride to play for where Southern Miss is concerned, given it's the Golden Eagles' final game of a rocky 2020.

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On the other side, even though the division title is no longer a possibility, there's still plenty at stake for Florida Atlantic, including rebounding after last week's disappointing showing. The Owls also are playing for bowl positioning, so don't expect them to take it easy on the downtrodden Eagles.

Prediction: Florida Atlantic 24, Southern Miss 13

— Written by Todd Saelhof, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and a sports editor/writer for Postmedia in Canada. Follow him on @ToddSaelhofPM at #CollegeFootballFrenzy.

(Javion Posey photo courtesy of @FAUFootball)