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October 20, 2010INSIDE SLANT
The first half of the 2010 season has left Southern Miss coach Larry Fedora with mixed feelings.
"I am disappointed that we are not undefeated, but I am happy that we are 5-2," Fedora said. "If I would have known what the injury situation going into the season would be what it is at this point in the season, I would have probably been happy where we are at right now."
Probably, only because of disappointing showings in Southern Miss' two biggest games of the year-the season opener at South Carolina and the Conference USA showdown against defending champion East Carolina.
The Golden Eagles failed to look competitive against South Carolina in front of a national television audience. It has become easier to swallow because the Gamecocks later knocked off defending national champion Alabama and have been ranked for most of the season.
East Carolina was more of an even matchup, but, again, Southern Miss didn't play well. This time it was mistakes and squandered opportunities that led to the Golden Eagles being in a hole in conference play.
Otherwise, Southern Miss has been what was expected, a Conference USA contender with strong defensive play.
The most notable injury has to be the unspecified lower leg malady ailing talented receiver DeAndre Brown. He has missed the past four weeks of the season.
"We are not calling it a bye week," Fedora said of this break in the schedule. "It is a get healthy week."
• Southern Miss replaced its all-time leading rusher with a running-back-by-committee running game. The four Golden Eagles backs-Desmond Johnson, Kendrick Hardy, V.J. Floyd and Tracy Lampley-have combined for 1,025 yards through seven games. It has worked in all but the first game, against South Carolina. Since that game the team has averaged nearly 210 rushing yards per game.
• Part of the reason the Golden Eagles are well on their way to yet another winning season is the fact they have forced twice as many turnovers as they have committed. Southern Miss ranks 10th nationally in turnover margin.
• Through their first two games, Southern Miss wideouts Johdrick Morris (343 yards) and Kelvin Bolden (324) lead the team in receiving. Most of Bolden's yards (154) came in the last game against Memphis. Said Southern Miss coach Larry Fedora of Bolden: "He can stretch the field because he can really run. He may be the fastest guy on the team."
Season Summary: - It started with a belly flop on national television, but, so far, this season has been what most expected of Southern Miss. The Golden Eagles wield one of the best defenses in the country, mostly because of a rush defense that is ranked No. 5 nationally. Thanks to its prowess on the defensive side of the ball and a strong running game, Southern Miss is right in the thick of the Conference USA title hunt, though it will need some help after falling to East Carolina. Fans probably wish they had seen better performances in marquee games.
Looking Ahead: - Southern Miss probably can't play much better in the running game-on both sides of the ball-than it has through the first seven games. The Golden Eagles could improve in net punting. If they are to win a Conference USA title, they need to perform better in big games. There are two such games in the season's final three weeks, at Central Florida and at Tulsa.
Quote To Note: - "I think defense has been key to our success. They have played very well and given the offense short fields. They directly affect the way we play offense. Based on what they're doing, we can run ball more and control the clock. The situation was the opposite the last couple of years. Defense wins championships. If the guys continue to play this way, we'll be right there at the end."-Southern Miss quarterback Austin Davis.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
Scouting The Offense: - There was some concern about the running game after the graduation of the school's all-time leading rusher, Damion Fletcher. But this year's Golden Eagles actually have rushed for more yardage through seven games than they did last year. The passing game, meanwhile, isn't where it was. Quarterback Austin Davis hasn't been as accurate, plus he's missed his biggest target, DeAndre Brown, for most of the season.
Scouting The Defense: - This is the strength of the team. Thanks to the tough, athletic and experienced front seven, Southern Miss allows less than 85 yards per game on the ground, fifth-stoutest in the country. It's better than some programs well-known for their defense, such as Alabama, TCU and Iowa. Linebacker Korey Williams leads the team in tackles and sacks.
• The biggest injury news so far continues to be that of receiver DeAndre Brown. He has missed four games with the injury, and it's uncertain when he will return to the lineup.
• CB C.J. Bailey and RB Desmond Johnson left the last game with undisclosed injuries, but coach Larry Fedora expects both players to return to the lineup, perhaps as early as after the bye week.