HAMMOND - For those planning on following Saturday’s Southeastern Louisiana-Southern Mississippi game, here’s a bit of advice: Don’t blink or you might miss something.
The reason? Through two games, the Lions have run 182 offensive plays, while the Golden Eagles have run 153.
“The officials may need oxygen this week, because we’re going to go fast and they’re going to go fast,” SLU coach Mike Lucas said of the game, which kicks off at 6 p.m. at M.M. Roberts Stadium. “I mean, they’re faster than we are.
“If it’s a close game and both teams are running their offense all the way through, it could be a two-hour game because it’s going to go fast,” Lucas said.
Southern Miss (1-1), which is coming off a 26-20 loss to Marshall, is averaging 114 yards rushing per game behind a group of running backs featuring Kendrick Hardy (19 carries, 66 yards), Jamal Woodyard (11-54) and Desmond Johnson (13-51).
“Just watching them, the most impressive thing is their running backs,” Lucas said. “They are physical and fast. You know, sometimes you can get guys that are real fast but not very physical. These guys are very, very, physical. They will punish defensive backs when DBs come up and try and tackle them. So we’ve got to have a method of stopping the run, but also not letting them throw the ball up and down the field on us.”
USM quarterback Austin Davis (46-86-4, 535 yards, 2 TDs) likes to go to Ryan Balentine (11 receptions, 131 yards).
“If you try to gang up on the run game, they’re going to throw the football,” Lucas said. “Austin Davis is a really good quarterback. We recruited Austin, had him committed, and he decided to walk on at Southern Miss.”
SLU (1-1) is coming off a 63-6 win over Savannah State, with an offense averaging 483 yards per game behind quarterbacks Brian Young (35-60-1, 410 yards, 1 TD) and Nathan Stanley (16-24-0, 162 yards, 2 TDs), running backs Zeke Jones (26-90, 5 TDs) and Sam Fairley (21-83, TD) and receivers Brandon Collins (15-148, 2 TDs) and Simmie Yarborough (8-106, TD).
“What I know so far is that they’ve had over 90 plays offensively in both games,” USM coach Larry Fedora said of the Lions. “They are a very up-tempo, move-the-ball-around team and they didn’t have any trouble scoring.”
Defensively, the Golden Eagles are giving up an average of 311 yards per game, led by linebacker Korey Williams (21 tackles, one interception, one sack) and defensive back Deron Wilson (18 tackles).
“They are very, very multiple,” Lucas said. “They will line up all over the place. They’ll blitz you from everywhere.”
The Lions, meanwhile, are giving up 302 yards of total offense, paced by safety Marice Sutton (11 tackles), linebackers Ricky Irvin and Avery Crooks and cornerback Robert Alford (10 tackles each).
“Defensively, they’ve played two different types of game plans where they put a lot of the receivers and loaded the box against Tulane and played a little more base against Savannah State,” Fedora said. “In both of them, they had a lot of success.”
But Lucas knows the Golden Eagles aren’t the only obstacle the Lions face as they travel to take on their second Football Bowl Subdivision team in three games to open the season.
“This will be a different type of game because the crowd will be so loud,” Lucas said. “It will be such a big crowd. You know, playing in the Superdome was an away game, but it wasn’t a loud game, so we’ve got to go down there this week and figure out how do those kind of things in a hostile environment. And that’ll be good, it’ll get us ready when we go to Lake Charles the following week.”