The Southern Miss Golden Eagles will look to end a couple of disappointing streaks that have encompassed their 2021 college football season when they hit the road one final time and soar into Joe Aillet Stadium to take on the Louisiana Tech Bulldogs in Ruston. Not only have the Golden Eagles (1-9, 0-6 Conference USA) gone winless in their five games away from Hattiesburg, they've yet to win a game against an FBS opponent. The Golden Eagles shut out FCS Grambling 37-0 in their home opener in Week 2 but have lost all nine other games by an average of nearly 22 points per contest.
Louisiana Tech's (3-7, 2-4) first five games, meanwhile, were each decided by just one possession. Their three losses in that stretch came by one, two, and seven points, while their wins came by a field goal and a touchdown. The Bulldogs stopped the bleeding last week, ending a five-game losing streak with last week's 42-32 home win over Charlotte.
Southern Miss leads the head-to-head series with Lousiana Tech 35-17, but the Bulldogs have won the last two meetings. Last year's matchup was a 31-30 thriller in Hattiesburg that saw Tech overcome a 17-point third-quarter deficit to win the game on a touchdown with just 14 seconds left.
Southern Miss at Louisiana Tech
Kickoff: Friday, Nov. 13 at 8 p.m. ET
TV: CBS Sports Network
Spread: Louisiana Tech -16.5
When Southern Miss Has the Ball
With the Golden Eagles down to their third quarterback after injuries to Trey Lowe III and Ty Keyes, labeling this season as an uphill climb for the program would be the understatement of the day. Only Akron (5.3) has allowed more sacks per game than Southern Miss (4.3) this season, and with only 14 points per game, the Golden Eagles are second to last in the nation (129th) in scoring offense. Only New Mexico is faring worse in the category.
If limiting turnovers and capitalizing on third down are two of the primary hallmarks of successful offenses, then Southern Miss must have missed the memo. There have been 10 turnovers in the past three games alone — including five in a 35-10 loss at Middle Tennessee — with only Hawaii (26) having committed more for the season than the Golden Eagles' 25.
Striving for the best impression of his father, Frank Gore Jr. is fifth in Conference USA with 162 carries. He's averaging just 4.52 yards per rushing attempt, but he's leading the team in all-purpose yards (886), and despite all the touches, he has yet to lose a fumble this season. He lost just one across 130 touches (121 carries) as a true freshman in 2020. Gore has had to shoulder more of the load because of season-ending injuries to fellow running back Darius Maberry and wide receiver Chandler Pittman.
Southern Miss' closest C-USA games this season have been a five-point loss to Rice on Oct. 2 and last week's 27-17 somewhat surprising decision to undefeated UTSA. The thing those two teams have in common is they are ranked in the bottom half of FBS defenses in passing defense. Louisiana Tech has fared even worse in this department and is last in the conference at 285.8 yards per game. The Golden Eagles' passing game hasn't exactly been prolific — especially now with former scout team member and redshirt freshman walk-on-turned-starter Jake Lange at the helm — but perhaps there will be plays to make against the Bulldogs' generous defense.
When Louisiana Tech Has the Ball
While their defense has had trouble, the Bulldogs haven't had many problems moving the ball when it's in their hands. Two of the team's highest-scoring outputs have come in the last two weeks, as they scored 38 points against UAB and 42 versus Charlotte. This comes despite being outgained in all but one game this season — ironically, a 34-27 loss at NC State being the exception.
After quarterback Austin Kendall suffered an apparent lower back injury in the loss at Old Dominion, JD Head and Aaron Allen have started each of the last two games. Allen got the job done last week, completing 21 of 27 passes for a career-high 327 yards and a pair of touchdowns to help Lousiana Tech snap its five-game losing streak. Allen relied heavily on Smoke Harris (8 rec., 98 yds., TD) and Tre Harris (5, 91) while Isaiah Graham hauled in the other scoring strike.
Allen's strong performance wasn't enough to overshadow Marcus Williams Jr., who ran a career-high 29 times for 131 yards and a whopping four touchdowns. He had scored just twice the entire season prior to last week's explosion. Williams' four rushing touchdowns were the most by any Bulldog in a game since 2015, and he also was the first on his team to eclipse the century mark on the ground this season.
Despite its record, Southern Miss actually boasts an above-average defense in some respects. Opponents have converted fewer than 39 percent on third down against the Southern Miss to slot the Golden Eagles in the top half of both the FBS and Conference USA. Not to be outdone, they are giving up a little more than 211 passing and 368 total yards per game to enter Week 12 among the top 50 and top 60, respectively, in the nation in those categories. On the scoreboard, however, has been the biggest issue. Southern Miss is giving up 30 points per game, a mark that has been surpassed in three of the last four.
Something will have to give when the Golden Eagles and Bulldogs square off on Friday night. A Southern Miss win would be its first against an FBS opponent and on the road, while a victory by Louisiana Tech would be a third straight over the Golden Eagles, something the Bulldogs have never done in this series, which dates back to 1935. Both of these programs have struggled mightily in 2021, but they'll hope to use the change-up of this being their first (and only) non-Saturday game of the season to help shift the momentum in the other direction heading into the final week.
Prediction: Louisiana Tech 38, Southern Miss 20
Podcast: Week 12 Predictions + Picks Against the Spread, CFB Playoff Rankings, and the Latest in Coaching Searches
— Written by Juan Jose Rodriguez, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and a 2019 graduate of the University of Notre Dame. Rodriguez was an intern for Athlon during summer 2017 and worked for a variety of media outlets on campus, including as the Editor-in-Chief of Scholastic Magazine. Follow him on Twitter @JuanJoseRG02.