Southern Miss heads to Rice

By ALAN HINTON,

Southern Miss hopes to snap a two-game losing streak Saturday when it plays the Rice Owls in Conference USA football action at Houston.

Game time is 2:30 p.m.

The Golden Eagles are 5-4 overall, one win away from bowl eligibility, and 3-2 in Conference USA. They lost 24-10 to Tennessee of the SEC last week and 30-12 to UAB on Conference USA the week before.

Rice is 1-8 overall and 1-4 in C-USA, having beaten UTEP 31-14 in the second game of the season. It has lost eight straight games.

“It's Conference USA play. We know we have to bring our ‘A’ game every week,” USM coach Jay Hopson said. “They're a football team that does a lot of shifting and motions on offense and a lot of misdirection. 

“Defensively, they give you even and odd looks. They make you work on both sides. They have our utmost respect and we know it's going to be a tough football game. Again, they have talented guys in the backfield, at wideout, on the defensive end running the ball hard. They're a good team.”

Southern Miss has talent, too. Senior running back Ito Smith is considered the best player on the team but has found the going tough the past two games. For the season, Smith has gained 868 yards, but he only got 51 against Tennessee and 36 against UAB,

“(Tennessee was) pretty good up front,” Southern Miss offensive coordinator Shannon Dawson said. “There was not much room in there.”

Wide receiver Korey Robertson also is having an outstanding year. He has 51 receptions — 20 more than anyone else on the team — for 702 yards and seven touchdowns. Against Tennessee he caught eight passes for 122 yards, one of which was a 70-yarder.

“He has played really well,” Hopson said. “Korey went up there and gave us the big catch and kind of gave us some juice at the end of the first half. He's physical with the football, blocked well and had a complete football game.”

After injuring his left hand late in the North Texas game and missing almost the entire month of October, junior quarterback Kwadra Griggs probably will be back in the starting lineup against Rice. He has completed 77 of 147 passes (52.4 percent) for 1,71 yards and eight touchdowns. He has been intercepted twice.

“One good thing with that is he's back to 100 percent healthy now,” Hopson said. “We got the cast off (Sunday). Now he's back healthy, ready to roll and feeling 100 percent.”

Sophomore Keon Howard started the season opener against Kentucky and the last five games. He has completed 96 of 170 passes (56.5 percent) for 1,199 yards and eight TDs. He has been intercepted five times.

Hopson said the cast on Griggs’ hand caused problems.

“We had the cast where it was covering up those initial three fingers, which was making it hard to catch snaps,” he said. “There’s certain things you have to look at and it doesn’t matter if you can’t catch the snap from center. Last week, we were able to get it down where he had more hand flex action in that left hand. He’ll probably be our starter this week. He didn’t lose the job when he was injured.”

Free safety Tarvarius Moore leads the USM defense in tackles with 55 total, followed by rover Jomez Applewhite with 48, strong linebacker Racheem Boothe with 45 and boundary cornerback Curtis Mikell and middle linebacker Jeremy Sangster with 39 apiece.

The Eagles held Tennessee to only 210 yards of offense.

“I felt like we had a really solid day defensively,” Hopson said.

The Rice game will be webstreamed by Stadium on Facebook.

After Rice, there are only two more regular-season games on the schedule: hosting Charlotte on Nov. 18 and playing at Marshall on Nov. 25.