Something's Gotta Give

Two undefeated seasons will be on the line when the Southern Mississippi Golden Eagles travel north to play the Kansas Jayhawks Saturday.

For their part, the Golden Eagles arrive undefeated on the strength of a balanced offense and an opportunistic defense.

Offense has long been a trademark for teams associated with Southern Miss Coach Larry Fedora, formerly the offensive coordinator at Oklahoma State, and this team is no exception. The Eagles love to run multiple sets, spread teams out and gash defenses with Wildcat runs and throws downfield. This year's team boasts exceptional balance, with the Eagles putting up almost 250 rushing yards per game to go with their more than 205 passing yards per game. Those numbers have helped the Eagles score 38 points per, a number they'll try to hit if they want to keep up with a fast-break Kansas offense.

The trigger man is quarterback Austin Davis (6-foot-2, 206 pounds), who has had a wonderfully efficient year thus far. Davis has completed 68 percent of his passes for 600 yards and five touchdowns to zero interceptions.

But despite his successes, Davis this season has taken a bit of a backseat to a high-octane running attack. Damion Fletcher (5-10 177) is one of the country's top backs, rushing for 344 yards and six touchdowns. He'll likely end his career with 5,500 yards and 50 or so touchdowns. They also like to use him out of the backfield, where he's tied for the team lead in receptions with nine. Tory Harrison (6-1 188) serves as Fletcher's backup, but he also spends time as Fletcher's backfield mate when the Eagles go to the Wildcat formation. He's made the most of his 11 rushes, averaging 15.3 yards per carry and scoring two touchdowns. Fullback Josh Hurd (6-0 220) is largely used as a blocking back.

Southern Miss likes to spread the ball around — through three games, 12 Golden Eagles have a reception to their name. It is worth saying, however, that if DeAndre Brown were healthy, he would probably get the lion's share of the passes. Brown (6-6 231) is a former Scout.com five-star player who snagged 67 passes for 1,117 yards as a true freshman. This year, Brown has nine catches for 82 yards, as he's been fighting off injuries. Receiver Quentin Pierce (5-11 163) is actually listed ahead of Brown on the depth chart. Freddie Parham (6-0 172) and Gerald Baptiste (6-0 182) are listed as the other starters at receiver. Together, it's a deep and athletic group. Tight end Jonathan Massey (6-3 251) has two catches for 29 yards on the year.

The offensive line has paved the way for Southern Miss runners to average 5.2 yards per carry, though the Eagles have allowed five sacks. The group is experienced, with only one player who didn't enter the season with starting experience. Kyle Burkhart (6-5 275) and Brennan Houston (6-4 310) are the tackles, while Micah Brown (6-2 287) and Ryan Hebert (6-5 310) start at guard. Cameron Zipp (6-1 297) will start at center.
While the offense has been strong, the defense has been nothing to sneeze at. Southern Miss enters the Kansas game allowing just 17.7 points and 251.7 yards per game. The Eagles have nine sacks as well.

The defensive line, which has allowed just 1.6 yards per rush, is anchored by formidable nose tackle Anthony Gray (6-0 301). Deddrick Jones (6-3 245) is at end, while defensive tackle Terrance Pope (6-3 275) supplies pressure from the other side. The Eagles also play with a Rock, a defensive end/linebacker hybrid designed to get to the passer. Roshaad Byrd (6-3 247) and Cordarro Law (6-2 243) combine at that spot. Law has four tackles for loss and two sacks.

The linebacking unit is probably the strength of the defense, led by middle linebacker Korey Williams (6-2 228). Williams is tied for the team lead in tackles with 22, and has four tackles for loss and three sacks as well. Will linebacker Ronnie Thornton (6-3 230) also has 22 tackles on the year, while Sam linebacker Martez Smith (6-0 211) has 14 tackles, a tackle for loss and an interception.

If the defense has a weakness, it's in the secondary, where teams have racked up 200 yards per game. That number was boosted last week when Virginia topped the 300-yard mark through the air. The Eagles play a boundary and field corner system, with the boundary cornerback and safety accounting for the end of the field closest to the sideline. Cornerback Andre Watson (5-10 180) and safety Justin Wilson (5-11 187) have combined for 28 stops on the boundary side, and Wilson has two fumble recoveries.  Field cornerback C.J. Bailey (5-10 189) has 12 tackles and two passes broken up, while field safety Eddie Hicks (6-2 183) has an interception this season.

Kicker Justin Estes is 4-6 on field goals this year, but just 3-5 on field goals under 30 yards. He has also missed an extra point. Punter Peter Boehme (5-11 213) is averaging just 33.5 yards per punt, but that number is a bit deceiving — he has dropped 10 of his 12 punts within the 20. The return game is dangerous, led by Parham, who took a kickoff 100 yards in the Virginia game. Watson will return punts.

Last week, the Golden Eagles were able to beat a BCS conference team on the road. This week, they'll try to do the same on the road. The stakes for Southern Miss are high: win, and the Golden Eagles will be regarded as a potential BCS buster. Lose, and it limits what they can do this season.

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