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November 23, 2011

Eagles try to refocus for Black and Blue Bowl

Southern Miss's annual game against rival Memphis is known as the Black and Blue Bowl.

The name comes from the bruising intensity of the rivalry and the fact that black and blue are the primary colors of Southern Miss and Memphis, respectively. But, this year, you could use blue to describe the state of the Golden Eagles coming into this matchup.

Southern Miss enters the game reeling from a loss to UAB, a struggling team that had mustered two wins before upsetting the Golden Eagles.

When asked about how he spent the weekend, Southern Miss senior defensive back Cameron O'Neal told the local media: "A whole lot of soul searching. Trying to decide what the destiny of this team is going to be after this game and what are some of the small things we didn't take care of, like the little details. We'll try to find a way to take a step forward for Memphis."

O'Neal and the rest of the Golden Eagles have to wonder what could have been, even in the midst of this memorable season. Both of the team's losses came to teams that are below .500.

The second loss dulled the luster of what had been accomplished, costing the Golden Eagles their national ranking and quashing the talk of crashing the BCS.

Now they have to hope that the setback doesn't cost them again versus Memphis, another team Southern Miss should beat.

NOTES, QUOTES

- The Golden Eagles stand 6-0 in home games this season. If they beat Memphis, it will be the 10th time since 1976 that Southern Miss has finished its home slate unblemished.

- For the fifth straight season Southern Miss has amassed more than 5,000 yards of offense. After the UAB game, Southern Miss had produced 5,097 yards this season. That's an average of 463 yards per game.

- The Memphis game marks the last time the members of Southern Miss coach Larry Fedora's first recruiting class will play at home. Said Fedora: "What makes these guys special is they've been through a lot in this program in the past four years, both on the field and off the field. All of these guys have bought into what we asked them to buy in to. They've worked as hard as we've asked them to work."

Series History: Southern Miss leads, 36-21-1 (Last meeting, 2010, 41-19 Southern Miss)

Scouting The Offense: Offense hasn't been a problem for Southern Miss recently. The Golden Eagles' offense produced at least 500 yards in each of the past two games. As usual, they have struck a balance between rush and pass offense. Memphis is not a good defensive team, and it struggles particularly against the pass, so Southern Miss could put up big numbers through the air.

Scouting The Defense: The Golden Eagles' defense was unrecognizable last week. The Golden Eagles had been respectable throughout the season in third-down situations, allowing opponents to convert third downs at a 36-percent clip before the UAB game. But the Blazers converted at more than twice that percentage, making 12 of 17. Southern Miss will struggle to win any more games if it can't get its defense off the field on third down.

Quote To Note: "I don't think there is any secret. We played poorly this past week. We were outplayed, outcoached. All those things that I talked about previously. This film didn't look any better. You wished it would've, but it didn't. We didn't play well." - Southern Miss coach Larry Fedora.


STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

This Week's Game: This series has been lopsided the past two years, and Memphis rarely wins in Hattiesburg, Miss. There's little reason to suspect any of those trends to change, as the Golden Eagles are playing for a berth in the Conference USA title game and the Tigers only have a possible spoiler role.

Keys To The Game: Memphis might be the worst team in Conference USA. Last week's surprising Southern Miss loss left coach Larry Fedora questioning his team's energy. A more zealous performance against the lowly Tigers should give the Golden Eagles some momentum heading into the Conference USA title game.

Players To Watch:

DB Jacorius Cotton - He racked up a career-high 17 tackles against UAB last week. No Golden Eagle has had more tackles in a single game this season. Cotton also forced a fumble.

RB Desmond Johnson - Johnson dashed for 85 yards on 14 carries. After missing seven games due to a significant knee injury, he seems to be back to the form that had him pegged as the starter before the season. He could be more productive in the final few games of the season.

QB Austin Davis - He hit a significant milestone against UAB, becoming the first quarterback in school history to pass for more than 10,000 yards in his career. He achieved it on a third-down play that Southern Miss failed to convert. Davis already holds every other Southern Miss passing record.


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