University of Southern Mississippi football coach Jay Hopson consistently declined to look beyond the next game on his team’s schedule, insisting his team maintain that focus as well.
But, even should his charges adhere to that attitude, Saturday afternoon’s meeting at Marshall University could mark a milestone in the program’s history while certainly buttressing the Golden Eagles’ postseason profile.
Kickoff is set for 1:30 p.m. at Edwards Stadium in Huntington, W.Va.
Should USM (7-4, 5-2 Conference USA) defeat the Thundering Herd (7-4, 4-3), Hopson would join Curley Hallman as the only coaches to log at least 15 victories during their first two seasons at the helm.
USM went 7-6 in Hopson’s first season in 2016. The Golden Eagles were 10-2 in Hallman’s first year of 1988 and then went 5-6 in 1989.
However, all Hopson was interested in was the game. Period.
“It’s the next one,” Hopson said. “”It’s kinda the same story every week, I realize, but that’s who we have to be and who I am as a coach. It’s the next game, and the next game is always the biggest game.
In Conference USA, you have to be ready every Saturday. I think we’ve proven that. Most teams prove that each Saturday. We know we have a tough opponent this weekend. We know we have to prepare and be ready. It’s as simple as and true as it gets.”
Marshall had won six of its first games this season before dropping three of its last four, including a 9-7 loss last when the University of Texas-San Antonio kicked a game-winning field goal at the end of the game.
The Herd ranks ninth in C-USA offensively, averaging 368.6 yards a game. Defensively, Marshall ranks third in total defense, allowing just 334.6 yards a game, including just 118.5 yards rushing a game.
“Looking back at our season, I don’t know if we’ve played a defense that’s as athletic as they are,” USM offensive coordinator Shannon Dawson said. “They run around really well.
“The two thing that stick out to me, is one, they move around well, they eat up a lot of grass. Second, they get people down in open space. They tackle well.”
USM defensive coordinator Tony Pecoraro said the Herd has playmakers.
“The quarterback (junior Chase Litton), he’s a really good player, big-framed kid, about 6 (-foot-) 5,” Pecoraro said. “He throws the ball really well and does a good job managing their offense and getting the football in the hands of their playmakers.”
Litton has thrown for 2,545 yards and 19 touchdowns with 11 interceptions. His favorite target, junior Tyre Brady, has caught 56 passes in 10 games for 777 yards and seven touchdowns. Brady ranks just behind USM junior Korey Robertson, who had 65 catches in 11 games for 952 yards and 10 touchdowns.
Freshman Tyler King leads Marshall’s ground game with 666 yards and six touchdowns in nine games, while USM senior Ito Smith sets the tone for the Golden Eagles with 1,173 yards and 12 touchdowns.
USM junior quarterback Kwadra Griggs has started the past two games for the Golden Eagles and has completed 72.4 percent of his passes (42-of-58) for 552 yards and four touchdowns with no interceptions.
Griggs has not been sacked in the last two games nor has USM committed a turnover.