USM football facing tough bounce-back at Tennessee

USM football facing tough bounce-back at Tennessee

KNOXVILLE, TN - The previous time the University of Southern Mississippi lost a football game, the Golden Eagles responded with a three-game winning streak.

USM will be seeking another rebound Saturday, though the challenge will be much more daunting.

The Golden Eagles (5-3) will step outside Conference USA competition for the final time this season at 6:30 p.m. Saturday to take on the University of Tennessee (3-5) at Neyland Stadium in Knoxville, Tenn.

The Volunteers have suffered through a rocky season. Tennessee will carry a four-game losing streak into the game and have yet win a Southeastern Conference in five tries this fall.

But the Vols' three victories this year have against non-conference foes (Georgia Tech University, Indiana State University, University of Massachusetts) and three of Tennessee's SEC losses have come by six points or less.

"You look at their games, and they've had some tough losses," USM coach Jay Hopson said. "The last-second (Hail Mary pass) at Florida and the tough loss last week at Kentucky (29-26). They had a tough, last-send loss at South Carolina (15-9).

"They had a nice win against Georgia Tech, winning the first game of the season, but they're a team that has had some late, last-second losses. You look at some film, and  you see what type of football team they are. They have our utmost respect."

Sophomore Keon Howard is expected to make his fifth consecutive for the Golden Eagles at quarterback.

Howard was pulled in the fourth quarter of Saturday's 30-12 loss to the University of Alabama-Birmingham at M.M. Roberts Stadium in Hattiesburg in favor of junior Kwadra Griggs, who had started three games in September before injuring his non-throwing hand.

Hopson said Monday that competition for the starting job would remain open through the week of practice. Friday, Hopson confirmed that Howard would get the nod.

Howard has completed 89-of-148 passes (60.1 percent) for 1,099 yards and eight touchdowns with four interceptions.

Tennessee is expected to see the return of star junior running back John Kelly, who was suspended for last week's game at Kentucky after police said marijuana was found in his vehicle after a traffic stop on Oct. 24.

Kelly is among the SEC's leading rushers with 615 yards and six touchdowns this season.

In his absence, freshman Ty Chandler posted career highs against Kentucky, running for 120 yards and two touchdowns on 22 carries.