Southern Miss (1-1) looks to carry the momentum from its first win of the season this weekend against Sun Belt opponent Troy (1-1).
The last time Southern Miss and Troy played against each other, a 47-42 shootout ensued. However, this season’s game should favor a more defensive-oriented matchup after both teams have started the season, allowing an average of just 12 points per game.
As Southern Miss earned its first shutout since 2017 with a 37-0 victory against Grambling State, Troy limited Group of 5 powerhouse Liberty to 21 points in a loss.
After two games, the Nasty Bunch ranks as the sixth-best run defense in the nation, allowing only 1.5 yards per carry. The number sticks out as an impressive feat for first-year Defensive Coordinator Austin Armstrong’s unit.
While the team played as a cohesive unit in their shutout, two players stood out in the pack: linebacker Josh Carr Jr. and safety Malik Shorts.
Carr, a transfer from Southeastern Louisiana, has gotten off to a fast start in his first game at Southern Miss. He recorded 1.5 sacks against Grambling State, bringing his total to 2.5 on the season.
“I’m just working every day, and I’m trying to get better and better,” Carr said. “I know I’m fast, and I’ve got a few things to work on, but every week, I’m getting better. I’m glad to be here.”
Shorts, who finished last season with 81 tackles, currently leads the team in tackles  and pass breakups  through the first two games.
The Golden Eagles’ defense will look to continue its success against a Troy offense that struggled against Liberty, netting a total of 232 yards on offense but only gaining 21 yards on the ground.
On offense, Southern Miss has developed its identity in the rushing attack, picking up 60% of its total offensive yards from rushing plays. The Golden Eagles combined for 290 rushing yards in their win against Grambling State, which is more than the team’s passing totals through two games [282 yards].
COVID-freshman Frank Gore Jr. has led the way for the rushing corps, picking up 246 yards in two games, including a career-high of 162 yards against the Tigers.
Dajon Richard also showed flashes in his first snaps at Southern Miss against Grambling State, rushing for 76 yards. Hall noted that he and Gore have the chance to be a “one-two punch” in the Golden Eagles’ offense.
Richard will continue to be the second option in the run-game as running back Darius Maberry suffered a season-ending injury against Southern Miss. Freshman Chandler Pittman is listed as the team’s third option on the updated depth chart.
However, the pressing question headed into week three for Southern Miss is its quarterback situation. After suffering a “lower extremity” injury against Grambling State, quarterback Trey Lowe did not return.
True freshman Ty Keyes took over for Lowe. In his first 30 minutes of action, Keyes threw for just 4 of 11 passes but evaded pressure and extended plays, rushing for 67 yards. Keyes showed promise passing too, connecting with receiver Jakarius Caston for a touchdown in the fourth quarter.
As Lowe’s injury status remains unanswered, Keyes could potentially earn his first start at Southern Miss.
The question is if Lowe is ready to return, will he start, or will Hall give the “Keyes” over to the true freshman?
Hall confirmed that if Lowe hadn’t suffered his injury, he would have kept him in the game. Lowe started last week 10 out of 13 for 99 yards and a touchdown, improving his efficiency from the first game.
But, Hall noted the energy Keyes brought to the offense. Southern Miss was up 10-0 against the Tigers with Lowe, but found a rhythm in the second half, scoring 27 points with Keyes.
The position will be the top headline of the week for the Golden Eagles and certainly will impact their game plan against Troy.
The Trojans have had a stout pass defense, allowing just 262 passing yards through two games and recording four interceptions against Southern University. Troy’s defensive line has also found its way to the quarterback with seven sacks, including 3.5 from defensive end Will Choloh.
Whichever quarterback will take the field for Southern Miss will have to be wary of the Trojan’s defensive force. The Golden Eagles’ offensive line looks to have their hands full come Saturday.
While starting receivers Jason Brownlee and Antoine Robinson will be on the field for Troy, they have both been recovering from injuries. Through two weeks, newcomer Caston has led the team with seven receptions for 88 yards and a touchdown.
The Golden Eagles’ offensive situation could prove a run-heavy strategy. Last week, Gore ran the ball seven times in one drive, which he said did not phase him.
“I just went with the play call and if he gives it to me, he gives it to me. I go play by play,” Gore said.
While Southern Miss leads the all-time series 2-1, all matches have been even-keel, with the largest margin of victory being six points.
Southern Miss settled twice for field goals within the ten against Grambling State, which is an area Hall wants to fix.
“We blew it in the red zone,” Hall said. “We should have scored some more touchdowns.”
With that being said, every opportunity in the red zone and in opponent territory could be crucial in the outcome of the game with a history of close finishes between the two teams.
Southern Miss will kick off against Troy at 6 p.m. Saturday.