USM looking to step up at LSU

USM looking to step up at LSU

HATTIESBURG, MS (WDAM) - University of Southern Miss safety D'Nerius Antoine knows more than a bit about the atmosphere that he and the Golden Eagles will be facing Saturday night when they take on Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge, La.

"That was my dream school," said Antoine, who grew up in New Iberia, La. "I actually have an old teammate playing for them."

But a large, raucous packed-out stadium should be quasi-familiar situation for the Golden Eagles, who have visited Nebraska, Alabama, Auburn, Arkansas and Mississippi State in the past three seasons.

"But it shouldn't be any different from playing at like a Nebraska, where they have like 80,000, almost 90,000 people," he said. "The people are going to be there. We just have to go out and play."

The road was far from kind to USM last weekend, when the Golden Eagles were ambushed 55-32 by Texas-San Antonio, falling behind 21-0 and forced to play catch-up throughout the entire game.

While this week's foe appears even more formidable, the Golden Eagles intend to remember the Alamodome.

"We're going to fight," USM coach Jay Hopson said. "Our guys are going to work and fight. We're never happy after games like that.

"Coaching is a tough business after losses like that, the ones you didn't see coming. Those are always hard to wake up to the next morning. But it's always good to get back on the field. You just want to get back out and compete again."

USM will get that opportunity at 6:30 p.m., when the Golden Eagles (4-2) and Tigers (3-2) meet for the third time.

LSU won the initial meeting, 13-10, in 1951, but the Golden Eagles won the more recent game, hanging on for a 20-18 victory in 1994 over a Tigers' ballclub coached by former USM coach Curley Hallman.

The Golden Eagles will be looking to double-down this season on opponents from the Southeastern Conference. USM opened the 2016 season with a 44-35 victory at Kentucky.

But the Golden Eagles will take on a tall task trying to tame the Tigers.

USM piled up 31 first downs and 557 yards against the Roadrunners, and has scored at least 31 points in every game this season.

But LSU is stingy, allowing an average of 14.8 points per game, the seventh-toughest scoring defense among the Football Bowl Subdivision's 128 programs.

The Tigers rank 18th against the run, allowing 108.2 yards per game, and 21st in total defense, giving up  an average 326 yards a game.

"There's no trick," USM offensive coordinator Shannon Dawson said. "You know where they're going to line up, a lot like everybody in that league. They don't need a whole of window dressing. We've got to have a good plan, and then execute it when we get down there."

On the flip side, the Golden Eagles can offer a balanced attack, led by senior quarterback Nick Mullens and junior running back Ito Smith.

Mullens, who completed 24 of 47 for 370 yards and three touchdowns against UTSA, stands 296 yards shy of catching Austin Davis' school-record 10,892 career yards. Mullens currently ranks seventh among FBS quarterbacks with 1,874 yards and 16 touchdowns through the Golden Eagles first, six games.

Smith, who has scored at least one touchdown rushing or receiving in his last 11 games, ranks eighth among FBS rushers this season with 711 yards in six games.

The Tigers also like to run the football, though the Golden Eagles may not see Heisman Trophy candidate Leonard Fournette, who has missed two games already with an ankle injury.

But Derrius Guice has stepped in nicely, rushing for 402 yards and four touchdowns, to help enhance the play of quarterback Danny Etling and the Tigers' passing game.

Etling has completed 58.4 percent of his passes, throwing for 649 yards and three touchdowns with one interception. His top targets include Travin Dural (176 yards on 18 catches; 1 touchdown) and Malachi Dupre (136 yards on 15 receptions).

"They have an outstanding quarterback, whose come in and done an outstanding job for them," USM defensive coordinator Tony Pecoraro said. "Guice, No. 5, he's an outstanding player. They've got speed out wide and a massive offensive line.

"It'll definitely be a strong test, but we've got to be ready play that, play that Southern Miss football, play aggressive, play physical, don't back to anybody, go down there with a chip on your shoulder and play better this week."

USM was gouged for 532 yards by UTSA, as the Roadrunners set a school record with 339 yards rushing.

But Hopson said the Golden Eagles are focusing on better execution against a top-shelf foe.

"They're a football team that we know is a really good football team," Hopson said. "We know that they're a very talented football team and we understand that we have to play better.

"That's a big thing as a coach. We have to come out and play better football than we did last week for sure."