East Carolina (2-2) at Southern Mississippi (4-1)
The Sports Network
DATE & TIME: Saturday, October 9th, 7:30 p.m. (et)
FACTS & STATS: Site: Roberts Stadium (36,000) -- Hattiesburg, Mississippi. Television: WITN/CSS. Home Record: ECU 2-0, Southern Miss 3-0. Away Record: ECU 0-2, Southern Miss 1-1. Neutral Record: ECU 0-0, Southern Miss 0-0. Conference Record: ECU 2-0, Southern Miss 1-0. Series Record: Southern Mississippi leads, 26-9.
GAME NOTES: The Southern Mississippi Golden Eagles are flying high, and look to remain perfect at home when they host the East Carolina Pirates this Saturday in a Conference-USA bout at Roberts Stadium.
The Pirates head into this matchup in desperate need of a victory. East Carolina began the season with two straight wins, but have stumbled over its last two contests, both which occurred on the road. The most recent setback came this past weekend, as the Pirates were tortured by North Carolina, 42-17.
As for the Golden Eagles, they opened the season with a 41-13 setback to South Carolina. However, since then coach Larry Fedora's team has reeled off four consecutive wins, three of which came at Roberts Stadium. This past weekend the Golden Eagles opened league play with a convincing, 41-16 decision over Marshall in Hattiesburg.
The Pirates claimed a 25-20 victory over Southern Mississippi this past season. Despite the win East Carolina is still far behind in the all-time series, as the Golden Eagles own a commanding, 26-9 edge.
The Pirates are coming off their worst offensive showing thus far, as the team tallied just 17 points in a loss to North Carolina. East Carolina racked up 347 total yards, but committed three turnovers in the contest, one of which was returned for a touchdown.
Dominique Davis threw for 244 yards and one touchdown in the matchup, but was also intercepted three times, while completing just 33-of-51 passes. Despite the poor showing, Davis has been solid overall on the season, throwing for 1,134 yards and 10 touchdowns, while converting 65.6 percent of his throws. Davis' play is crucial for the success of this offense, as the Pirates are producing 295.2 ypg via the pass.
What makes this passing attack so dangerous is the tandem at receiver, as Dwayne Harris and Lance Lewis have both become reliable options. Harris is leading the team in receptions (31), yards (358) and touchdowns (4), while Lewis is right behind him with 21 receptions and three scores. In the loss to UNC, Lewis hauled in a touchdown pass and finished with 68 yards on nine catches, while Harris grabbed eight passes for 64 yards.
The Pirates were punched in the mouth against North Carolina, as the Tar Heels smashed the ball through this defense for 263 yards on 5.7 yards per attempt. With the exception of collecting two sacks, this unit did nothing right in the setback, as North Carolina was able to convert on 50.0 percent of its third downs and four of its five red zone chances.
East Carolina has only played four games this season, but it is clear that this defense has plenty of problems that need to be fixed and fast. North Carolina abused the Pirates on the ground, and that is not surprising since this unit is being gashed for 198.2 yards per contest.
However, that is not the biggest issue for this unit. What has hampered this defense the most in the first four games is its inability to defend against the pass, as teams are currently torching the Pirates for 272.8 ypg.
The Golden Eagles might be flying high at the present moment, but their success is due to their play on the ground. Southern Mississippi comes into this contest averaging 183.8 rushing ypg, and have more than just one option in the backfield.
Desmond Johnson is pacing the squad with 296 yards, while quarterback Austin Davis has contributed 182 yards and four touchdowns. V.J. Floyd and Kendrick Hardy are also involved in the mix, combining for 223 yards and two scores.
Southern Miss relied on its ground game in the win over Marshall, as the Golden Eagles rumbled for 205 yards. Johnson led the way with 74 yards, while Hardy added 55 yards and one touchdown. Davis only rushed for 18 yards, but scored three times on the ground. The signal caller also threw for 164 yards and one touchdown. Davis had a solid outing throwing the ball, but on the year he has been mediocre at best, throwing just three scores against three interceptions.
Southern Mississippi's recent run has plenty to do with the play of the defense, which has been lights out. The Golden Eagles have done a tremendous job stopping the run, and are currently limiting the opposition to just 103.8 ypg.
Southern Mississippi's success against the run continued against Marshall, as coach Fedora's squad held the Thundering Herd to just 45 yards on 2.0 yards per attempt. However, the unit's domination did not stop there, as Southern Miss limited Marshall to just 125 yards through the air, forced one turnover, and held the Herd to just 3-of-13 on third downs.
Clearly the team's ability to defend the run is the most impressive part of this unit, but a close second is the team's play on third downs. Currently coach Fedora's defense is limiting opponents to just 33 percent in those crucial situations.
The Golden Eagles have everything going for them at the present moment. They have played tenacious defense, and have put forth outstanding efforts in their own stadium. Look for both trends to continue this weekend against East Carolina which has plenty of issues defensively.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Southern Mississippi 27, East Carolina 13
10/06 11:00:39 ET