Southern Miss is riding high coming into Saturday night’s game. The Golden Eagles won the Conference USA championship game in decisively taking out Case Keenum and Houston and wrecking their BCS hopes. The win got Southern Miss coach Larry Fedora the job at North Carolina next season, but he’ll be on the sidelines for this game. As for Nevada, they had a nice season but couldn’t quite close out the deal in the race of the WAC title. They dropped tough games to Utah State and Louisiana Tech in the conference. Both of those teams have already lost bowl games. Can Nevada break the trend?
Overall Southern Miss is the better team and the steam in Las Vegas says the same, as the pointspread on this game has risen from (-6) to as high as (-8). To not only move a number two points, but to do it past the key spot of (-7) takes a huge amount of money, so clearly the hometown fans aren’t high on the Wolfpack. Nevada challenged good teams, in taking on Oregon and Boise State, but wasn’t competitive. Southern Miss meanwhile beat bowl-bound Virginia and SMU en route to the conference championship game. Furthermore, Conference USA is a better top-to-bottom league than the WAC.
Those are the good reasons to like Southern Miss, and with an outstanding quarterback in Austin Davis, I do in fact like them to win tonight. But there are some specifics to this matchup that can work in Nevada’s favor. The first is that the Golden Eagles’ run defense is susceptible. They gave up over 100 yards on the ground in the wins over Virginia and SMU, and in losses to Marshall and an inexplicable upset at the hands of UAB. Nevada runs the ball very well. With leading rusher Mike Ball was suspended in November, they popped Lampford Mark into the lineup and he kept up the beat. The Wolfpack’s problem comes more in defending the run. Pass defense hasn’t been a problem, and they played very well against Kellen Moore (it was Boise’s defense and rush game that was the difference), against Texas Tech’s Seth Doege at a time when the Red Raiders were playing well and the conference losses to Louisiana Tech and Utah State came to teams that like to run the ball. Southern Miss wants to throw it with Davis.
The uniqueness of this matchup make it potentially a good game to watch. It’s too bad they couldn’t have played it last night instead of on Christmas Eve.