Three wins in a row should have Southern Miss feeling pretty good about itself going into conference play.
But optimism for the Golden Eagles (3-1) is muted as they deal with multiple injured players on their normally potent offense. Southern Miss hosts Marshall (1-3) at 7 p.m. on Saturday in Hattiesburg.
Starting right tackle Jason Weaver is done for the season after suffering a knee injury last weekend against Louisiana Tech.
Receiver DeAndre Brown, who leads the team with 12 receptions for 199 yards and two touchdowns, has been hobbled by a lower leg strain while running back Tracy Lampley is wearing a knee brace that limits his mobility.
Several others — like guard Joe Duhon and running backs Desmond Johnson and V.J. Floyd — have been held out of practice or have been limited because of various issues.
Southern Miss center Cameron Zipp said it’s no fun watching teammates get injured, but there are other good players on the team.
“That’s why I’m glad we had such a competitive preseason camp,” Zipp said. “We’ve got backups who are just as good as the starters and have stepped in to do the job. There shouldn’t be any dropoff.”
USM coach Larry Fedora said the rash of injuries are a concern, and preparing for opponents isn’t easy when so many of the main contributors need rest instead of practice time.
Even with the issues, Southern Miss is among the favorites to win what’s turned into a wide-open Conference USA race. Houston was the preseason favorite — before the team lost quarterback and Heisman candidate Case Keenum for the season after a knee injury.
“We are still banged up,” Fedora said. “That isn’t going to change, but we have a lot of guys fighting through it and pushing hard to get better. Unfortunately, we don’t have a lot of time to let them rest. They have to play. We have a lot of young guys playing and it should be a lot of fun for them.”
During Fedora’s three seasons, the Golden Eagles have been known as a team that puts points on the scoreboard and is most comfortable in a shootout. But now that the offense is battered and bruised, there’s been a role reversal, with the defense leading Southern Miss to a 13-12 victory over Louisiana Tech.
The Golden Eagles held Louisiana Tech to just 47 rushing yards and also forced four turnovers, including freshman cornerback Deron Wilson’s interception in the final minutes that ended Louisiana Tech’s final drive.
Fedora was impressed by the defense, and said it’s more than capable of carrying the team if needed.
“It’s not like the offense has gone out there and played well every single game,” Fedora said. “I expect the offense to bounce back next week and I think they will. If we lose guys to injury other guys have to step up.”
Even with all the injuries, Southern Miss gained 425 total yards against Louisiana Tech. The problem was in the red zone, when the offense would bog down and have to settle for field goal attempts.
“We were lucky to get away with that against a good football team,” receiver William Spight said. “We’ve just got to really focus on finishing drives. That’s been what this whole week is about. We’ve got the guys who can make the plays, but we’ve just got to do it.”
David Brandt/The Assocated Press