Golden Eagle Pride's Drew White provides some answers on Southern Miss

Here's a closer look at the Hilltopper's opponent in the Conference USA Championship game on Saturday

1. Southern Miss has been scoring a lot of points this season, including straight three games eclipsing the 50-point mark. What is fueling the high-scoring offense?

There have been several keys to the Southern Miss offense being able to put up school record breaking numbers this season. It all starts up front in the trenches, where USM is deeper and more experienced. They can run 2 deep along the O-line and that hasn't happened in years past. Also, the skill players all returned from a year ago. Nick Mullens is in his third year of running the offense as QB, and he has great chemistry with the WR's. Senior Mike Thomas has emerged as a big play threat that has stretched out the defense and the Eagles have tight ends that can make plays which they haven't had in years past.  Southern Miss has three quality running backs that have pushed each other and have stayed healthy this year. Also, new strength and conditioning coordinator Zac Woodfin has added speed, strength, and confidence to every player on the team and it has shown in the downhill offense this season.

2. USM has a history of being home to some great defensive teams. What is the strength of this year's group?

The strength of the defense this year is that they are deep and experienced along the defensive line. They are able to rotate and not miss a beat. Coach Monken brought in several transfers who added a lot of experience, especially at the defensive tackle position. Two seniors were brought in that added a tremendous amount of depth. Guys that had to play as freshmen and sophomores are now juniors and seniors, and they look more developed and confident. One of the players of the year is safety D'Nerius Antoine who was a JuCo transfer and has NFL potential. He has a great motor and has reminded fans of some of the throwback defenders Southern Miss has had in year's past.

3. Jalen Richard and Ito Smith are both listed as the possible starter at running back and both have enjoyed success this season. What makes them such a good tandem?

Southern Miss has the chance to have two backs over 1,000 yards this season. Jalen Richard has surpassed it and Ito Smith is under 50 yards from passing that mark. Richard is a senior who has battled injuries his entire career at Southern Miss. He's fully healthy and has been the back everyone was hoping to see.  Ito Smith played as a true freshman last year, starting a few games. He's explosive and can make big plays. Against Louisiana Tech, he had three TD's in three plays following turnovers. These guys are hard workers who push each other and prepare well. They are both shifty backs that have the ability to make people miss and get extra yards when needed.

4. Senior wide receiver Casey Martin has established a new school record for receptions in a season. Why are teams having difficulty slowing down his production?

Casey excels at finding open space and making catches in traffic. He has tremendous hands and great chemistry with QB Nick Mullens. He's very quick too. He reminds fans of a Wes Welker type Wide receiver who isn't physically imposing, but always seems to be open and always comes up with a catch when needed.  Other than Mike Thomas, he's been the go to guy for Nick Mullens.

5. The Golden Eagles have won five C-USA football titles, how important is it for the program to win it's sixth on Saturday?

Southern Miss won 4 games in the past three seasons heading into this year. They were predicted to finish 4th in the west before the season. Todd Monken knew he had a good team coming in and was very confident, and you could hear in the players' comments that they believed they could win this conference. It has already been a successful season, but they want to put a stamp on the turnaround by finishing the season with a championship. Southern Miss has a proud history and had 18 consecutive winning seasons before the recent drop.  Over the years they are used to competing for championships. Todd Monken has turned this program back around, and they want to finish off the dramatic turnaround by winning the championship


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