Southern Miss to face its opposite Saturday

Southern Miss to face its opposite Saturday

HATTIESBURG, MS (WDAM) - When the University of Southern Mississippi takes to the football field Saturday night at M.M. Roberts Stadium, the Golden Eagles might be forgiven if they feel like they are looking into a mirror.

The University of North Texas has been productive, actually, very, very productive on offense through its first games of the season, ranking 16th nationally at 503.5 yards total offense a game and 32nd at 37.8 points a game.

On the other hand, USM has been downright stingy on defense, ranking sixth nationally by allowing an average 241.3 total yards in three games and 14th in points allowed at 13.7 per game.

Something will have to give when the Golden Eagles (2-1) open their Conference USA season when they host the Mean Green (2-2, 1-0) at 6 p.m. Saturday.

USM coach Jay Hopson said his team knows it will have its hands full.

"North Texas is a very balanced football team," Hopson said. "Good quarterback, good running back, good receivers. Offensively, they have a lot of weapons.

"Defensively, they've done a good job. They play hard and aggressive, so we know we have a good team coming in here."

The Mean Green, which ranks first in C-USA in total offense and scoring offense, is led by quarterback Mason Fine, who has completed 78 of 123 passes for 1,076 yards and nine touchdowns with three interceptions.

Running back Jeffrey Wilson tops C-USA with 518 yards on 63 carries with six touchdowns. He averages 8.2 yards a carry.

Both were injured last season when the Mean Green squeezed past USM 29-23 in Denton, Texas, last season.

"They're a very good offense, one of the best in the country right now," USM defensive coordinator Tony Pecoraro said. "The quarterback is a fantastic player. He does a great job. Throws the ball beautiful. Does a good job extending plays.

"They have three, very talented running backs, and Wilson's almost rushed for 200 yards twice. They have three, really standout receivers. They are loaded on offense. They really are."

North Texas, though, has had issues slowing other teams down.

The Mean Green won a track meet of a game with the University of Alabama-Birmingham last week, opening its C-USA season with a 46-43 victory over the Blazers.

In two its two losses, the Mean Green allowed 54 points to Southern Methodist University and 31 points to the University of Iowa.

While not putting up UNT numbers, USM's offense has been productive. The Golden Eagles rank 45th nationally at 458.3 yards total offense a game, including 279.7 yards passing (35thnationally).

Running back Ito Smith, who turned in the first 200-yard rushing game of his career two weeks ago in a 28-17 victory at University of Louisiana-Monroe, ranks third among C-USA rushers, averaging 110 yards a game.

Kwadra Griggs ranks sixth among C-USA quarterbacks, throwing for 681 yards and seven touchdowns with one interception while seeing a little more than two games worth of snaps.

Still, Hopson said he is leery of the Mean Green defense.

"They're a unit that plays hard, an aggressive defense," Hopson said. "They do a good job of rushing the passer. They're a team that plays hard on both sides of the football."