Bowl eligibility is on the line this week for Southern Miss.
The Golden Eagles (5-6, 3-4 Sun Belt) need one win to reach the six needed to go bowling for the first time since 2019. ULM (4-7, 3-4 Sun Belt) stands in the way, a hungry squad looking to end its regular season on a positive note at home and reach the five-win plateau.
“We have a big one this week against an opponent who is a really good opponent who is a lot like us,” said sophomore Southern Miss coach Will Hall. “If you could change one possession in about three or four games, they would have a great record, just like us. They’re growing like us in year two of their program, so it’s a great opportunity for us and we are thankful for that opportunity. We’re excited to go there.”
The Golden Eagles and Warhawks play for the seventh time on Saturday (kick-off at 4 p.m.) and for the first time as fellow members of the Sun Belt Conference. Southern Miss leads the series 4-2; However, ULM won 21-20 in 2018, when the teams last met.
“Southern Miss, you can look at their schedule and they’ve won some close games and they’ve lost some close games as well,” said ULM coach Terry Bowden. “They played against Troy about the same as we did. You see some of the other teams they played against; their losses were heavy losses as well. I’ve known Will Hall for a long time and he’s going to turn that program around. They’re in the same phase of winning close and losing close as we.”
Six games this season have been determined by seven points or less and Southern Miss is 3-3 in those games. Southern Miss is trying to end a three-game losing streak after falling 27-20 to South Alabama last week.
“When we got here, everyone was like, ‘Coach, how fast do you want to win a championship?'” Hall said. “The first step for us as a program is to play 12 games again that matter. We haven’t done that here in a long time and now we’ve done it. We’re on game 12, and the 11th game mattered , the 10th game mattered, the ninth game mattered, and this 12th game definitely matters. That’s a big step forward in our program to get to game 12 and make that game matter. is huge for us and we’re obviously excited to get to that point but we’ve got to get over this hump and win. We’ve got to do that for our fan base, the administration and for these seniors. Is this all that matters? No. We still have a long way to go anyway. We have to recruit, develop and keep going, but we have to get this done.”
Through 11 games, Southern Miss has averaged 24.7 points and 322 yards. The Golden Eagles pass for 211.5 yards and rush for 110.5 per game. Hall expects resistance and deceit from the defense of ULM.
“They line up everywhere,” Hall said of ULM’s defense. “Coach (Vic) Koenning is one of the best defensive coordinators of all time in the history of football. He’s always been there. I know him and go way back with him. I have a lot of respect for him. They try everywhere to cause chaos and disruption, so they will give us a lot of different looks. We will have to protect football and go out there and do what we have to do.”
Wide receiver Jason Brownlee gives Southern Miss a top target in the passing offense. The 6-foot-3, 202-pound senior leads the Golden Eagles with 51 catches for 796 yards and seven touchdowns. Brownlee’s 20 TD receptions rank fourth in school history. This year, he is the school’s nominee for the Conerly Trophy, which is awarded annually to the best collegiate player in the state of Mississippi.
Trey Lowe III is the third quarterback to start this season for Southern Miss. Red-shirt freshman Ty Keyes opened the year as a starter, but was injured in the opening game and true freshman Zach Wilcke started the next eight games for the Golden Eagles. With two starts, Lowe has completed 45 of 87 passes for 625 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions.
Running back Frank Gore Jr. leads USM in rushing with 854 yards and six touchdowns on 183 attempts. The sophomore is the son of longtime NFL running back Frank Gore.
Gore’s six 100-yard rushing games put him 13th in school history. Before his career, Gore Jr.
Nine different offensive linemen have made at least one start this season, including Tykeem Doss and Gerquan Scott, who each started in all 11 games. The Golden Eagles have used four different line combinations on the offensive front this year. A regular in the lineup, Scott extended his streak of consecutive starts to 27 for the Golden Eagles last week.
The Southern Miss defense allows 24.7 points (ranked 51st nationally) and 380.1 yards per game. The Golden Eagles have recorded 35 sacks, 16 interceptions and four fumble recoveries.
Senior linebacker Dominic Quewon leads the team and is second in the Sun Belt in sacks with 8.5. He also ranks 15th in the nation in that category while tied for the team leader in tackles for loss with 9.5.
Defensive defenseman Malik Short has a team-best 86 tackles and ranks ninth in the Sun Belt in tackles per game. Shorts is second on the team with three interceptions, behind free safety Jay Stanley with four.
Defensive linemen Jalen Williams (45 tackles), Josh Ratcliff (35), Quentin Bivens (28) and Kristin Booth (26) have combined for the Golden Eagles’ 19 88 tackles for loss this season.
USM kicker Briggs Bourgeois has scored 74 points while making 15 of 16 field goal attempts and 29 of 30 PAT kicks. His longest field goal was 53 yards.
“Our fans will come to the stadium with the same kind of opportunity to see a team trying to get one more win than last year, which is what you would like to do,” said Bowden. “So in that respect there is enough to play for, to take another step forward.”
Warhawk Connections: Southern Miss coach Will Hall attended Florida State Quarterback Camp as a youngster. Terry Bowden from ULM was one of the coaches.
“I grew up in the Bowden quarterback camp from the time I was 12 years old,” Hall told ULMWarhawks.com during Sun Belt media days. “When I graduated I worked on it and was the quarterback instructor under him training the kids. We have a long history together.”
Hall and Bowden met twice as head coaches during the 2011 season. Hall won during the regular season to lead West Alabama over North Alabama 31-26, but dropped a 43-27 decision to Bowden’s team in the NCAA Division II playoffs.
Two ULM assistant coaches worked at Southern Miss, including OC/QB coach Matt Kubik, who held the same position for Southern Miss in 2020, and WR coach John Carr, who served as the school’s director of football operations from 2013-14. Patrick McGee, ULM’s director of football relations, worked as a recruiting coordinator under former USM coach Larry Fedora.
Confederate Miss Morsels: Playing their first year in the Sun Belt, the Golden Eagles are in their fourth different conference in their football history after membership in the Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Association from 1931-41, the Gulf States Conference from 1948-1951, and Conference USA from 1996-2021. The program has amassed 29 winning seasons over the past 29 years, appearing in 18 bowl games in that time. …At 29 years old, USM’s Austin Armstrong is the youngest defensive coordinator in the Football Bowl Subdivision for the second straight season. … USM scored 65 points on turnover. … The Golden Eagles are outscored, 272-271.