Eagles at golden point in season

Published 10:32 am Friday, October 9, 2015

In the long road back to respectability, this has been a week to savor for Southern Miss.

Its record is above .500 for the first time since the program nosedived at the start of the 2012 season. It’s in first place in Conference USA’s Western Division for the first time since winning to 2011 league championship.

It’s almost too bad the week has to end early.

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The Golden Eagles (3-2, 1-0 Conference USA) go on the road tonight to play Marshall (4-1, 1-0), the two-time defending East Division and reigning C-USA champion. It’s a stiff challenge for a Southern Miss program still enjoying its first major milestone of success in more than three years, but also an opportunity to make a statement that it is indeed back among C-USA’s contenders.

“It will show how far we have come. If you want to be the best, then you have to play against the best and see where you are. They have set the bar in terms of the past few years. It’s all about where you are as a team and they are a great barometer for that,” Southern Miss coach Todd Monken said at his weekly press conference earlier this week.

Following its 2011 championship season, Southern Miss went for a long, lonely walk in the football wilderness. It lost 23 consecutive games over the 2012 and 2013 seasons, then went 3-9 last year. With nearly every significant starter returning, however, this was pointed to as a bounce-back year and the Golden Eagles have not disappointed.

Southern Miss’ two losses were both competitive ones against Power 5 conference teams, 34-16 to Mississippi State and 36-28 at Nebraska. In the three wins they’ve scored an average of 52 points.

Quarterback Nick Mullens has thrown for 1,691 yards and 14 touchdowns, with only three interceptions in 188 attempts. Running backs Jalen Richard and Ito Smith both have 365 rushing yards and have combined for eight touchdowns.

By contrast, in the entire 2014 season Mullens threw 12 touchdown passes, while Smith led the team with 536 rushing yards and no one else had more than 271.

Monken said keeping up the pace on offense will be important to the Golden Eagles’ chances Friday night.

“It’s always important to get a fast start, especially on the road,” Monken said. “We didn’t do that at Nebraska, but luckily we were able to keep them out of the end zone which gave us a chance. Obviously, it’s important to get a fast start but on the road it is critical.”

The other challenge for the Golden Eagles is tackling the short week. They’re 1-4 since 2010 in games played on Thursday or Friday, with the one win coming over Kansas in Week 3 of the 2010 season. They played once on Thursday in 2014 and lost 12-10 on the road at Texas-San Antonio.

Monken feels that the day of the week makes little difference. It’s more about showing up and playing well.

“I’m done trying to analyze who it is good for and who it’s bad for because I have no idea,” Monken said.

About Ernest Bowker

Ernest Bowker is The Vicksburg Post's sports editor. He has been a member of The Vicksburg Post's sports staff since 1998, making him one of the longest-tenured reporters in the paper's 140-year history. The New Jersey native is a graduate of LSU. In his career, he has won more than 50 awards from the Mississippi Press Association and Associated Press for his coverage of local sports in Vicksburg.

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