Southern Miss ends regular season at Marshall

By ALAN HINTON,

It’s Thanksgiving week, but don’t expect the Southern Miss football team to get into any kind of celebratory mood before Saturday. And even that is not a sure thing.

The Golden Eagles (7-4 overall, 5-2 Conference USA) play at Marshall (7-4, 4-3) at 1:30 p.m. Saturday in their final regular-season game of 2017.

“We will stay on routine,” Southern Miss coach Jay Hopson said. “We’ll (practice) earlier on Thanksgiving Day.”

The Eagles cannot reach the Conference USA championship game — Florida Atlantic and North Texas will play in that on Dec. 2 — but a win could help get them in a more favorable bowl if they have eight wins instead of seven.

Plus, it’s always good to win.

“The next game is always the biggest game,” Hopson said. “In Conference USA, you have to be ready every Saturday. I think we've proven that. Most teams have proven that each Saturday. So we know we have a tough opponent this weekend. We know we have to prepare and be ready. It's as simple and as true as it gets.”

Southern Miss and its fans hope it can play as well as last week when it trounced Charlotte 66-21. The Golden Eagles rolled up 584 total yards of offense (363 rushing and 221 passing). They averaged 8.5 yards per offensive play and limited Charlotte to only 28 total yards and just 3.8 yards per play.

“We played good football,” Hopson said.

But Marshall will be a more formidable opponent. It is tied for second place in Conference USA’s East Division with a 4-3 record and, like Southern Miss, appears headed to a bowl game.

“Their defense plays hard, plays fast,” said Hopson, who was an assistant coach at Marshall from 1996 to 2000. “They are a talented football team and another team whose quarterback (Chase Litton) is playing great. (They possess) skill at wideout, skill at running back and are a football team that shows a lot of talent.”

Litton has completed 60.8 percent of his passes for 2,545 yards and 19 touchdowns but has thrown 11 interceptions, many of which have come in the last four games when Marshall went 1-3.

“He’s 6-5, throws well, manages the offense, gets the ball to playmakers and runs well,” USM defensive coordinator Tony Pecoraro said.

One Marshall playmaker is tight end Ryan Yurachek, who has caught 40 passes. Another target is wide receiver Tyre Brady, who has caught 56 passes.

Southern Miss counters with quarterback Kwadra Griggs throwing to Korey Robertson, who has 65 receptions, and Allenzae Staggers, who has 39. 

Or Griggs can hand off to Ito Smith, who has rushed for 1,173 yards this season. For his career, Smith has 48 touchdowns, a Southern Miss record.

Southern Miss and Marshall have played each other a dozen times. Southern Miss won five of the first six games, Marshall won five of the last six games.

So whoever breaks the 6-6 series tie will be celebrating.

Although most bowl pairings will not be made until after the Dec. 2 conference championship games, the bowl season begins on Dec. 16.