New Orleans Bowl pits Southern Miss against Troy
New Orleans, LA (Sports Network) - The New Orleans Bowl will have two familiar teams this year, as the Southern Mississippi Golden Eagles will battle the Troy Trojans this Sunday evening at the Superdome.
The Golden Eagles are no stranger to postseason play, as the team will be making its seventh straight bowl appearance, and 11th in the last 12 years. Overall, this is the 19th bowl game for Southern Mississippi, which is 8-10 overall in postseason action. Two of those wins came in 2004 and 2005, as the Golden Eagles were victorious in the New Orleans Bowl. Unfortunately the squad had its four-game bowl winning streak snapped this past season with a 31-21 loss to Cincinnati in the Papajohns.com Bowl.
It was an inconsistent year for Southern Miss, as the team finished with a mediocre 6-6 ledger. The Golden Eagles opened the season with two wins in their first three games, but then hit a road block, dropping their next five matchups. Four of those five losses were decided by seven points or less. Instead of putting the season to rest, the Golden Eagles soared through the end of their schedule, winning their last four matchups, including a 28-12 win over SMU on the road to clinch a spot in this bowl.
As for the Trojans, they opened the 2008 season with a 2-2 mark, but the two losses came against quality teams in Ohio State and Oklahoma State, both on the road. Troy caught fire after its 31-point setback to Oklahoma State, winning its next three contests by double-figures. After a heartbreaking, 31-30 loss to UL-Monroe, the Trojans rebounded with a 17-7 win over Western Kentucky, but then the team stumbled back into the loss column with a 40-31 setback to LSU. However, that would be the last loss of the year for the Trojans, who closed out their schedule with two straight wins, claiming the Sun Belt Conference title.
This is just the third-ever bowl game for Troy, which is 1-1 in postseason play. 2006 is when Troy made its last bowl appearance, as the team grabbed a 41-17 victory over Rice in this bowl game. Although there is one more game to play, head coach Larry Blakeney is happy with the success of his team this year.
"We are looking forward to the rest of the things that go with a successful year," said Blakeney. "These players and coaches have certainly done a great job. We've done a great job. When you think back to July 28, when we first reported, and all of the things we had to do to be champions."
With respect to the all-time series between the two schools on the gridiron, the Golden Eagles have won six of the seven matchups. However, these two teams have not done battle since 1977, when Southern Miss defeated Troy, 42-19.
The Golden Eagles bring a very balanced offensive attack to the table this Sunday, as the team is producing 434.5 total ypg, and that has led to 30.7 ppg. The main source of success for this unit has been the rushing attack, which is churning out an impressive 196.3 ypg on 4.8 ypc. Damion Fletcher, who was selected to the All Conference-USA First Team, leads the ground attack for Southern Miss, rushing for 1,235 yards and nine scores on 6.0 ypc. Quarterback Austin Davis also contributed to the rushing game, posting 471 yards and nine TDs on the year. However, Davis did more damage with his arm, as the signal caller threw for 2,852 yards and 21 touchdowns against just eight interceptions. Another addition to the All Conference-USA First Team was freshman receiver DeAndre Brown, who was clearly Davis' main target throughout the season. Brown was one of the top wide outs in the conference, as the freshman hauled in a team-best 66 receptions for 1,108 yards and 12 scores. Shawn Nelson only collected three touchdowns on the year, but tight end finished with 51 catches and 541 yards.
On the defensive side of the ball the Golden Eagles were not as impressive, as the defensive unit surrendered 369.2 total ypg, and that has led to 23.8 ppg. The Golden Eagles were torched through the air, as opponents averaged 223.9 passing ypg, and out of the 36 touchdowns surrendered by this unit, 24 have come via the pass. This unit has forced 28 turnovers on the year, but pressuring the quarterback has been a problem, as Southern Miss heads into this matchup with just 16 sacks. Southern Mississippi has limited the opposition to just 39 percent on third down attempts, but did allow opponents to convert on 76 percent of their red zone chances. Gerald McRath was the clear leader for this unit, racking up a team-best 126 tackles and 8.5 TFLs. McRath's season earned him a spot on the All Conference-USA First Team. Anthony Gray led the team with six sacks on the year, while Eddie Hicks grabbed a team-best four interceptions.
Much like their counterpart, the Trojans have a dangerous offensive attack that has the capability of punishing a team through the air, or on the ground. Troy comes into this matchup with 175.4 ypg on the ground, while adding another 246.0 ypg through the air. All that production has led to an impressive 33.2 ppg.
Leading the aerial assault has been Levi Brown, who is ready to take part in this bowl matchup.
"Before we started the season, our goal was to win the Sun Belt and go to the New Orleans Bowl," said Brown. "We are excited to finally have reached our goals."
Brown only played nine games this season, but the signal caller completed 61.8 percent of his throws, finishing the regular season with 1,775 yards and 14 touchdowns against just three interceptions. His top target has been Jerrel Jernigan, who is also looking forward to this matchup with Southern Mississippi.
"I am very excited," said Jernigan. "It will be my first time down in New Orleans. I have heard a lot of my teammates talking about Bourbon Street and how much fun it is going to be. I can't wait to get there."
The sophomore led the team with 66 receptions, 803 yards and five touchdowns. The main option out of the backfield was DuJuan Harris, as the tailback led the team with 1,025 yards and 11 scores on 5.4 ypc. Harris also collected 33 receptions on the year, and scored on three of those catches.
Not to be overlooked is the play of Troy's defense, which is limiting the opposition to just 319.6 total ypg, and a mere 20.6 ppg. The defensive unit is allowing 139.2 on the ground, but where the Trojans really excel is against the pass, as this defense is holding opponents to just 180.4 ypg through the air, and have recorded 21 interceptions. Overall this defense has forced 21 miscues on the year, and more importantly the defense has pressured the quarterback, collecting 33 sacks. The linebacking tandem of Boris Lee and Bear Woods have been the heart and soul of this unit, as Lee led the team with 113 tackles, while Woods added 104 stops. Lee's success this year earned him a spot on the All- Sun Belt Conference First Team. Joining Lee on that team will be defensive ends Brandon Lang and Cameron Sheffield. Lang paced this defense with 16.5 TFLs and 9.5 sacks, while Sheffield added 12.5 TFLs and 5.5 sacks. Also selected as a part of the All-Sun Belt First Team was cornerback Terrence Moore, who grabbed a team-high six interceptions to go along with 71 tackles and five TFLs.
12/17 10:33:19 ET