George Payne, Chris Westry

Southern Mississippi running back George Payne tries to keep out of the grip of Kentucky cornerback Chris Westry in the second half of an NCAA college football game Saturday, Sept. 3, 2016, in Lexington, Ky. Southern Mississippi won the game 44-35. (AP Photo/David Stephenson) ORG XMIT: KYDS127

David Stephenson

LSU will take a break from conference play to host Southern Mississippi at 6:30 p.m. Saturday at Tiger Stadium, looking for the second win of its "new season" under Ed Orgeron. 

To find out more about the Golden Eagles (4-2), we bring you our Pick 6 series – a Q&A with a beat writer covering LSU’s opponent – for another week. Jason Munz, who covers Southern Miss for the Hattiesburg American, kindly joined us to answer our questions about Jay Hopson’s squad.

You can follow Munz on Twitter @munzly and read his work here.

1.) Southern Miss outgained UTSA and had almost double the amount of first downs last Saturday. Yet, the Golden Eagles fell behind by three scores in the first quarter and never quite recovered in a 55-32 loss. What was the biggest difference for the Southern Miss offense against the Roadrunners compared to previous outings?

There really wasn’t much of a difference on the offensive side. Southern Miss has made starting slow a habit, and that continued last week. USM had only 2 three-and-outs, and they were the first two drives of the game. Usually, they can overcome that because they defense doesn’t give up 21 points inside the first six minutes of play.

2.) UTSA’s 21-point lead was fueled by big plays, as it connected on passing plays of more than 70 yards in its first two drives – one of which was a touchdown. Have chunk plays been a problem for the Southern Miss defense this season?

I don’t think so. I’d say Southern Miss’ opponents hit on an average amount of explosive plays through the first five games. But there’s no question, they were a problem last week against UTSA.

3.) The Golden Eagles seem to come out sluggish at the start of games, being outscored 73-48 in the first quarter this season. Is there a reason they look different in the first quarter of games, as opposed to the final three quarters?

If there’s a reason, I haven’t been able to pinpoint it. But halfway through the season, it’s not just a fluke at this point. USM has a problem starting slow offensively and defensively. If I had to hazard to guess, at least in terms of the defense, I’d say it could be a product of the veteran defense being a little too aggressive or playing with a little too much adrenaline. But, again, who’s to say.

4.) Though Jay Hopson is in his first year as head coach, he’s been an assistant at Southern Miss and has the Golden Eagles in first place of the Western division of Conference USA. What has Hopson done to sustain the success under Todd Monken last season?

The biggest thing, in my mind, is the fact that he hired an offensive coordinator that didn’t have to install a wildly different system than what this team has run the past three seasons. Also, I believe Hopson retained some key pieces of the previous staff (receivers/special teams coach John Wozniak, running backs coach Lytrel Pollard and strength and conditioning coach Zac Woodfin) which has ensured some continuity.

5.) Southern Miss quarterback Nick Mullens seems to be as good as advertised. He’s already passed for the most yards in the FBS this season and holds several school records. With targets like Allenzae Staggers and D.J. Thompson, what does he bring to this offense that makes it so explosive?

Nick is a very good decision maker, despite the eight interceptions. He also benefits from being very accurate most of the time and having a very talented running back tandem (Ito Smith, George Payne) alongside him.

6.) Despite the weapons on the outside, Golden Eagles running back Ito Smith, the nation’s eighth-leading rusher, can’t be overlooked. Even in an up-tempo, spread offense like the one Southern Miss runs, how important has the run-pass balance been to offensive success this year?

It’s been critical. The way Southern Miss’ offense is run, the worst thing that could happen would be it becoming one-dimensional. The same can be said for most every football team, but it’s vital to Southern Miss’ success. Without it, the Golden Eagles become very pedestrian.