HATTIESBURG, MS (WDAM) - Every week, University of Southern Mississippi football coach Jay Hopson talks about how much respect he has for the Golden Eagles’ upcoming opponent, and how much of a fight USM will have on its hands.
That will certainly be the case Saturday, as USM heads northeast to take on Conference USA’s winningest team.
The Golden Eagles (4-4, 3-2 C-USA) will visit West Division-leading University of Alabama-Birmingham (8-1, 6-0) at 6:30 p.m. at Legion Field in Birmingham, Ala.
The Blazers, who not only own C-USA’s top defense but also the conference’s top rushing offense, have unleashed a physical brand of football that has resulted in a seven-game winning streak.
Hopson said the Golden Eagles are expecting a battle.
“But if you look at our football team, every game has been a battle,” Hopson said. “From Auburn to Marshall to Monroe, you name it, every game was a battle.
“… We’re a team that’s got to keep battling, keep executing, and that’s really what I focus on. We know we’re playing a good football team, but we’re still mathematically in this thing, so we just want to put our best effort forward.“
UAB can wrap up its first C-USA championship with a win over USM. The Blazers have won six of the past seven meetings between the schools, including a 30-12 punch in the mouth in 2017 at Roberts Stadium.
Hopson stopped short of anointing quarterback Jack Abraham Saturday’s starter, assuming the sophomore has recovered sufficiently from injuries suffered two weeks ago at the University of North Carolina-Charlotte.
Abraham, who had started every game for USM, now has missed the last five quarters of USM football, with freshman Tate Whatley making his first career start in last week’s 26-24 victory over Marshall University.
Abraham, who has completed 72.3 percent of his passes for 2,060 yards and 13 touchdowns with 10 interceptions, took a massive hit straining for a first down late in the third quarter at Charlotte. Abraham suffered a bone bruise to his right leg, an injury that put him on the sideline against the Thundering Herd.
“We’ll see how it plays out this week,” Hopson said. “I really don’t know. I can’t tell you exactly what direction we’re going with who is starting.
“The good thing is that we have two other quarterbacks and they’re both healthy, structurally.”
The players of the week for the Marshall game included:
Offense _ Sophomore receiver Quez Watkins, who had a team-high five catches for 79 yards, including a 4-yard touchdown reception. It was his eighth TD grab of the year, but first in three games.
Watkins also was given credit for what Hopson called a “big thing,” a 57-yard screen pass early in the fourth quarter that Watkins took from USM’s 8-yard line to the Marshall 35-yard line.
USM needed a couple of pass inference calls, including one on a fake field goal attempt, to eventually score, but Whatley’s third-time-is-the-charm quarterback sneak from inside the 1-yard line gave the Golden Eagles a 26-17 lead with 7:13 to play in the game.
Defense _ Senior nose tackle LaDarius Harris, who had three solo tackles against the Herd.
Special teams _ Freshman long snapper T.J. Harvey.