For the first time since 2014, Southern Miss has started its football season with a 0-3 record. The team has much to improve on to turn its season around, but has little time to do so as this week’s conference matchup versus North Texas approaches.
While the Golden Eagles have not earned a win yet and are on the heels of a 42-point loss, the team has shined at moments. The offense has clicked and playmakers on defense have emerged. But, for the last two games, the team has taken multi-possession leads early on only to be outscored 50-26 in the second half.
Head Coach Scotty Walden talked about the team’s mentality moving forward from the last two crushing losses and the overall turbulent beginning to the 2020 campaign.
“Our kids believe in what we’re doing,” Walden said. “They believe in the process, [and] I believe in the process in what we’re doing. We’re going to keep believing and keep pushing and obviously, we’re going to adapt where we may have to adapt, but we’re going to keep working to get better this week. We’re excited to not have a bye week […] and get to go right back and play.”
The team’s defensive issues are a priority to be fixed. Last week, the Golden Eagles allowed 430 rushing yards and seven rushing touchdowns. Over the first three games, the team has allowed a staggering 43 points per contest and 17 total touchdowns.
Southern Miss’ defense will not catch a break in this week’s game. Through its first two games, North Texas has averaged over 600 yards of offense and scored 13 total touchdowns. Freshman running back Oscar Adaway III has rushed for over 100 yards in both games to start the season and will likely be heavily utilized against the Golden Eagles. Fellow running back DeAndre Torrey has also shared the workload of carries with Adaway, rushing for an average of five yards per carry.
North Texas plays a two-quarterback system, which will feature Austin Aune and Jason Beane. Coach Walden noted North Texas’ passing threat and weapons on offense.
“The [Jaelon] Darden kid is incredible — one of the best [wide] receivers in the league that we’ll see,” Walden said. “They’ve been extremely explosive on offense, so we’re going to have to really have a great game plan and get our kids amped up and ready to stop a great offense.”
Southern Miss’ opponents have successfully tested the team’s secondary, too. Through three games, Southern Miss has allowed 17 passing plays of over 15 yards. Overall, the Golden Eagles have allowed 723 passing yards and nine touchdowns.
The team’s mishaps are not limited to defense. In the second half of the game against Tulane, the Golden Eagles’ offense only managed to put three points on the board and were limited to 59 total yards. The offensive line also allowed five sacks from Tulane — four in the second half. The offense will need to produce for all four quarters to give the team a chance to win.
Last year, Southern Miss beat North Texas 45-27. Quarterback Jack Abraham threw for 421 yards and three touchdowns. Abraham and Southern Miss will look to replicate its success passing again in this year’s matchup. Through its first two games, North Texas has suffered against the pass, allowing 824 yards and seven touchdowns.
With a strong receiving corps and top target Tim Jones back in the mix, Southern Miss has plenty of weapons to choose from versus North Texas. Against Tulane, wide receivers Jason Brownlee and Demarcus Jones shined, with Brownlee earning over 100 yards on only three catches and Jones notching 11 receptions. Southern Miss also has the potential to include its versatile set of backs in the passing game, which is something that hasn’t quite been established yet.
While Southern Miss’ record is alarming, the team has only played one conference game. Southern Miss lost that game by one point. The team’s hopes of competing for a conference championship are still achievable. Wide Receivers Coach Kelvin Bolden, who won a Conference USA title with the Golden Eagles in 2011, talked about the team’s goal moving forward.
“Our goal is still ahead of us,” Bolden said. “We want to win the conference championship and this week, we’ve got a chance of reaching our goal by beating North Texas, which is a conference game, and stepping in the right direction to our number one goal.”
The game will be the first of five away games for Southern Miss. The game will start at 6:30 P.M. at Apogee Stadium.