Southern Miss finishes season Saturday against Troy

Published 9:00 am Friday, November 24, 2023

Even with a late-season surge, Southern Miss will not be in a bowl game for the second year in a row. Its season will end Saturday at the conclusion of its home game against Troy.

It’s been a step back for the program, but Will Hall is trying to look at it as a case of doing that in order to take two steps forward. The Southern Miss head coach is still trying to keep the team up right to the very end of a losing season and build positive momentum going into the offseason.

“Like I said from the get go, next year we’re in line to have over 50 guys that have been with us over three years. The team at that point will have become mostly guys that we brought in here and won in recruiting,” Hall said. “We feel good about the youth and growing them for another year. We’ve got to add to it in recruiting, which is going well right now. I just think that we’ve got a chance with the way we’ve built it to start reaping some serious rewards next year.”

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Recruiting is not the only area Hall and the Golden Eagles (3-8, 2-5 Sun Belt) are trying to improve. They rank last in the 14-team Sun Belt Conference in scoring defense and 11th in total defense. They’re 13th in passing offense and 11th in total offense. Other than running back Frank Gore Jr. (1,110 rushing yards and nine touchdowns) there hasn’t been a lot to brag about, statistically speaking.

The struggles on both sides of the football led to a seven-game losing streak. Two of those were one-score games.
The Golden Eagles won two in a row before last week’s competitive 41-20 loss to Mississippi State, but Hall acknowledged obviously have plenty of room to improve going into 2024.

“Now, we’ve got to improve in a lot of areas. We’ve got to get to where we’re winning those close games, I certainly understand that,” Hall said. “We’ve got to get better in several phases situationally and just base downs. We’ll address those and we’ll get moving and we’ve got to recruit, then we’re going to have the best offseason this school has ever had and go into next year feeling really good about it.”

Before they go into that great offseason, however, the Golden Eagles do have one last bit of business to clean up.

Troy (9-2, 6-1) has already clinched the Sun Belt’s West Division championship and will play in the conference championship game next week against Appalachian State or Coastal Carolina.

Beating Southern Miss would give Troy homefield advantage for the championship game. Troy also hosted it last season, when it beat Coastal Carolina for the title.

“I’d love for our program to be able to experience one more game at The Vet, this year, with this team, this group. I would love for that to happen. But we have to go out and handle our business to know that’s going to happen,” Troy coach Jon Sumrall said.

The Trojans have won eight games in a row after a 1-2 start. They allowed 14 points or less in six consecutive games until beating Louisiana-Lafayette 31-24 last week.

“Starting 1-2, we’ve been challenged. It’s not gone good all the time. Everybody thinks that just because we’ve been on a win streak that it’s been great the whole year,” Sumrall said. “When you start off a little bit bumpy or a little shaky you’ve just got to stay the course and trust the process of where we’re going and how we’re doing things. That says a ton about what our guys are about.”

Sumrall’s message is one echoed by Hall. He praised his senior class for sticking with the program during a rebuilding phase and, hopefully, being a bridge to better days ahead.

“Lot of old guys that just wouldn’t give up football, you know what I mean. They just kept playing. Some of them are sixth-year guys, some of them have been through so many injuries,” Hall said. “I just appreciate all of them because a lot of them could’ve left when we first got here and the coaching change happened, but they stuck with it. Won a bowl game last year and are leaving the program in a much better stable situation than what they found it in, so we are certainly grateful for them.”

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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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