HATTIESBURG, MS (WDAM) - The University of Southern Mississippi had an off week to try and fix what had ailed the Golden Eagles for the first half of the football season.
On Saturday night, USM will get to test those remedies against the Conference USA opponent has that has given it the most fits over the past five years.
The Golden Eagles (4-3, 2-1 C-USA) will welcome Marshall University (2-5, 1-2) for homecoming at 6 p.m. Saturday at Roberts Stadium.
"Those guys had a good break," USM coach Jay Hopson said. "It's good both mentally and physically, but now we have to go to work."
USM is seeking to snap a two-game losing streak that included its first conference loss of the season, a 55-32 drubbing at University of Texas-San Antonio on Oct. 8.
Marshall, which has one victory over a Football Bowl Subdivision opponent, will try to shimmy a derailed season back on track.
"Right now, at this point in the season, you have teams that are doing really good, you have teams that are right in between and you have some teams that are struggling, and right now, they're struggling a little bit," USM offensive coordinator Shannon Dawson said. "But you know as well as I know, teams seem to put it together when they play us. We're expecting their 'A' game, and their 'A' game is certainly good enough to beat anybody on their schedule."
The same could be said for USM.
"We're good enough to win our next five games, but we're also bad enough to lose these next five games," USM senior quarterback Nick Mullens said following the Golden Eagles' 45-10 loss at Louisiana State on Oct. 15.
"It's time to step up. This season can be great, or it can go really downhill. We're at a turning point in our season, I guess you'd say," he said.
Hopson said he agreed with Mullens.
"That's the reality of football," Hopson said. "Everybody is in this grind. We have Marshall this week. That's the reality. We have a big game this week. Everybody can see where everyone's at, and that's the reality of our season. It's a five-game stretch to achieve your goals and that's what we have to take one at a time. That's all that matters. We have to be ready to play Marshall and nothing else really matters."
Marshall has had USM's number on the football field over the past half-decade, winning the past five games in the series.
But the Herd has struggled defensively, with opponents averaging 468 yards and 36.1 points a game, both figures ranking 113th among the Football Bowl Subdivision's 128 members.
USM is ranked 19th in total offense at 490.7 yards a game and 29th in scoring offense at 35.9 points a game.
Hopson said the only numbers that will matter will be the ones on scoreboard at the end of the game.
"What happened last week doesn't have any relevance on what can happen this week," Hopson said. "We know they're a talented football team, and they have our respect. We know we have to be ready."
The Golden Eagles' biggest issue has been execution. For the past month, both players and coaches have said USM needed to focus on cleaning up the physical mistakes and mental miscues that have led to big plays for opponents and missed opportunities for the Golden Eagles.
"Ultimately, at this point in the season, it's our job, really, to get those 11 guys we put on the field to be on the same page," Dawson said. "That's the biggest thing, is to just gel offensively."
Hopson said he expected Mullens to be fully ready to face the Herd.
Mullens injured the thumb on his throwing hand late in the third quarter in USM's loss at UTSA. He played with it wrapped down the stretch against the Roadrunners as well as the following week at LSU.
"He's doing great," Hopson said. "He's 100 percent…Just watching him throw last week compared to the game of LSU is just night and day. He was still throwing the ball decent at LSU, but now he's really humming it and has his zip back. He's 100 percent. He's throwing it well."
Mullens, who has thrown for 2,035 yards and 16 touchdowns with eight interceptions this season, saw a streak of 22 games with a touchdown pass snapped in Baton Rouge, LA.
LSU limited the Golden Eagles to just 242 yards total offense as Southern Miss dropped back-to-back games for the first time this season.
But Mullens is closing in on Austin Davis' school records for career touchdown passes (83) and passing yards (10,892). Mullens needs four touchdown passes and 135 yards passing to move to the top of the charts in both categories.
Junior running back Ito Smith, who has netted 775 yards and seven touchdowns on the ground, stretched a streak of scoring at least one touchdown rushing or receiving to 11 games with a 1-yard run at LSU.
Place-kicker Parker Shaunfield remained perfect on field-goal attempts, knocking through his 11th field goal of the season with a 37-yard attempt at LSU.
Marshall quarterback Chase Litton has completed 62.1 percent of his passes for 1,812 yards and 16 touchdowns with seven interceptions.
But the Herd's running game has struggled, with leading rusher Keion Davis averaging just shy of 60 yards a game, with a net 417 yards and five touchdowns on 102 carries in seven games.
Still, USM defensive coordinator Tony Pecoraro said the Herd is a different beast when comparing game film to record.
"When you look at them on film, it doesn't really look like their record," Pecoraro said. "It looks like they put up a lot of points, and they put up a lot of yards. I don't watch both sides (on film), but the side I see, I see a very talented football team."
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