HATTIESBURG, MS (WDAM) - The University of Southern Mississippi football team is running out of games to right a season of early promise that has taken a turn for the worse.
The Golden Eagles (5-5, 3-3 Conference USA) will visit the University of North Texas (4-6, 2-4) at 4:30 p.m. Saturday at Apogee Stadium in Denton, Texas.
"We have great kids," USM coach Jay Hopson said. "They fight and practice hard. This bunch is going to battle through all of its adversity and stay 100 percent positive."
The past month or so has been filled with adversity.
USM, which started the season 4-1 overall and 2-0 in conference play, has lost four of its last five games, remaining one game shy of postseason eligibility for a second consecutive season.
And for a second, consecutive week, the Golden Eagles head into a game with uncertainty under center.
The availability of senior starter Nick Mullens remains a question mark while still recovering from a concussion suffered late in the second half of a 38-27 loss to the University of Charlotte on Nov. 5.
Backup Parker Adamson, who was injured in the fourth quarter of the same game, also appears to be sidelined for a second, consecutive week.
That would leave the quarterback duties in the hands of true freshman Keon Howard, who shed his redshirt to start in last week's 51-35 loss to Old Dominion University.
In his debut, Howard rushed for 98 yards and a touchdown and threw for 230 yards and another score, but also lost four fumbles, threw an interception and was caught for a safety against the Monarchs.
"Bottom line is, I'm proud of the job he did," Hopson said. "I thought he did an outstanding job, and talk about a true freshman, right out of high school that went out there and played his butt off. Just an outstanding effort."
UNT is pulling on the same oar as USM the past month.
The Mean Green had won three of four games during a stretch of September and October to move 4-3 overall and 2-1 in C-USA.
But UNT hasn't won since a 35-18 victory over Army on Oct. 22.
Freshman quarterback Mason Fine, who played in 10 games and had thrown for 1,572 yards and six touchdowns, was injured in last week's 45-7 loss at Western Kentucky University and is doubtful to play against the Golden Eagles.
Potentially more damaging is the likely absence of leading rusher Jeffery Wilson, who missed the WKU game and is not expected to play Saturday. Wilson had run 833 yards and 13 touchdowns in nine games.
Also likely sidelined: Mean Green top cover corner Eric Jenkins, who has nine pass breakups this season.
"They're kind of in the same boat as we are after the last couple of weeks," Hopson said. "They're a football team (that) is certainly a talented football team.
"They're a team who's had some big wins in their season. They had a tough game last weekend against a very good football team."