Winless Golden Eagles head to Denton to face the Mean Green in a Conference USA divisional matchup
Expect a shootout when Conference USA West Division rivals Southern Miss and North Texas meet up on Saturday night in Denton, Texas. That's not so much because of efficient offenses as it is due to absent defenses.
The host Mean Green (1-1), however, are hoping to have theirs shored up for their conference debut and have had plenty of time to do that. North Texas has been at home for two weeks after its trip to play Houston last Saturday was canceled due to COVID-19 concerns. It was supposed to be the Mean Green's first road affair after splitting their first two games on the home turf of Apogee Stadium.
So North Texas should be more than ready for a desperate Southern Miss (0-3) team that can't stop anybody, has already lost a conference game, and can't hold onto leads.
Plus that home-field advantage should help the host North Texas, which has won five of its last eight at home, including a 57-31 domination of FCS Houston Baptist nearly a month ago.
But maybe getting on the road to the Dallas GTA isn't all that bad for Southern Miss, which clearly needs a change of scenery after opening the year with three losses at home. This is especially true after last Saturday's debacle that saw the Golden Eagles get pummeled by Tulane 66-24 despite jumping out to a 14-0 lead.
"I want to send an apology to our fans, our players, to our coaching staff and everybody that came to the game," interim head coach Scotty Walden told the Pine Belt News. "I was shocked by the people who stayed around at the end of the game. I don't know that I would have. I was embarrassed, and that's not the way we want to lose.
"There is no excuse for having a performance like that. Very disappointed. We are going to correct and come back and find ways to get better."
The road hasn't exactly been a bad place for Southern Miss to turn things around. The club has split its last six games away from Hattiesburg.
Regardless, though, the game should see points galore given the 48 per game North Texas has surrendered through two tilts — including 65 to SMU in Week 3 — and the 43 on average Southern Miss is giving up.
Need more proof? North Texas has been picked apart for 639.5 yards per game, while Southern Miss has given up 493.
Get ready for plenty of offensive fireworks in Denton on Saturday night.
Southern Miss at North Texas
Kickoff: Saturday, Oct. 3 at 7:30 p.m. ET
Spread: North Texas -1
When Southern Miss Has the Ball
Jack Abraham took last week's lopsided loss to Tulane personally. But any shortcomings by the Golden Eagles quarterback are pretty minor compared to what happened defensively.
Still, as a leader, the senior Abraham wants to step up.
"I'm embarrassed and disappointed," Abraham told the Pine Belt News. "Not sure if there is any other way to describe the feeling. Offensively, we didn't get into a great rhythm in the second half."
Abraham still finished with 299 passing yards and two touchdowns on 23-of-38 passing in a losing effort. Through the first three games, he's completed 67.6 percent of his attempts for 877 yards, five touchdowns, and two interceptions.
His efficiency and connections with receivers Tim Jones and Jason Brownlee, who have combined for 490 receiving yards and four touchdowns, and Demarcus Jones (17 receptions) should serve this offense well against a North Texas unit that is once again struggling against the pass — 412 yards per game allowed, seven touchdowns, no interceptions.
Perhaps since the Mean Green are also getting gashed on the ground (227.5 rushing ypg), Southern Miss can supplement its aerial attack with more production from a running game that is mustering 98 yards per game in the early going. Senior Kevin Perkins, a big load (6-foot-0, 234), is leading the way with just 82 yards and two touchdowns. The Golden Eagles managed a total of 70 rushing yards last week vs. Tulane.
Or maybe the time off has given the Mean Green, led by sophomore linebacker Kevin Wood's 18 tackles, the chance to improve their defense.
When North Texas Has the Ball
If there's one bright spot for the Mean Green heading into this game, it's that Southern Miss has its own defensive issues and hasn't had as much downtime to try and fix them.
In particular, Southern Miss has gaping holes in its run defense, having allowed 430 yards on the ground alone to Tulane. And now, here comes the North Texas ground game, which has been ripping up the real estate to the tune of 286 yards per contest.
It seems freshman Oscar Adaway III, who leads the attack with 222 yards at 8.9 yards per carry, and DeAndre Torrey, who's tied with Adaway at 25 totes through two games, should be able to continue running amok on Saturday night.
Meanwhile, head coach Seth Littrell plans to continue his platoon of quarterbacks Austin Aune and Jason Bean. Aune is completing 52.8 percent of his passes for 387 yards, three touchdowns, and one interception, while fellow sophomore Bean is 15-of-27 for 246 yards, four touchdowns, and a pick.
Receivers Jaelon Darden and Greg White have combined for 241 receiving yards and six touchdowns. Whoever runs or catches the ball for the Mean Green, one thing is clear for Southern Miss from a defensive perspective. Freshman defensive back Malik Shorts (team-high 28 tackles) needs more help from his teammates.
Early in the week, North Texas announced three active COVID-19 cases — down one from last week — but it's the contact tracing that could affect the game, just as it did last week.
Perhaps Southern Miss would rather just skip it anyway given its downward spiral and the ugly looking matchup looming against the Mean Green's ground game.
But it's a chance to right the wrongs of a putrid start, especially against a North Texas team that's as bad or worse on defense.
Still, the Golden Eagles' confidence has to be riding oh-so low, and the home Mean Green have had the extra time to put behind that woeful loss to SMU and prepare for this important Conference USA West Division contest.
Prediction: North Texas 43, Southern Miss 38
(Top photo courtesy of Southern Miss Athletics)