By Al Jones/Sun-Herald (MCT)
No. 23 Southern Miss began the 2011 season in early August with three goals.
The first objective was to win the East Division in Conference USA and earn a berth in the league championship game. The second was to win 10 regular-season games during the regular season.
With the first two marks achieved, Southern Miss (10-2) goes after the third and final goal today in the C-USA Championship game at sixth-ranked Houston (12-0).
Southern Miss, which last won a C-USA championship in 2003, is a 13-point underdog against a Houston team that features Heisman Trophy candidate Case Keenum at quarterback.
“These seniors have led this team all year,” said Southern Miss coach Larry Fedora.” I can’t remember a time, maybe once during fall camp, where I wasn’t happy with their performance. These guys have practiced hard and that’s why we’re in the position we are in.
“You have one opportunity in your life to do what we’re about to do. For these seniors, for sure. And for the other guys, it will never be the same situation. You’ll never be playing for the conference championship against the No. 6 team in the nation and nobody gives you a chance.”
The game features the top two scoring and total offenses in the conference
Houston comes in averaging 52.7 points per game and 513.2 yards per outing behind Keenum, who has thrown 43 touchdowns this season against three interceptions.
Southern Miss counters with an offense that scores 36.9 points and 477.8 yards behind the play of Davis, who needs 77 passing yards to break his own single season passing record of 3,128 yards he set in 2008.
Defensively, both teams rank near the top of the conference in points and yards allowed.
The Golden Eagles are second in scoring and total defense at 20.5 points allowed and 338.4 yards. The unit has returned seven interceptions for touchdowns, which is tied for the best in the nation with Louisiana-Lafayette. Houston comes in third in scoring defense and fifth in total at 20.9 and 377.7 respectively.
Southern Miss leads the all-time series 8-5, including a 59-21 win at M.M Roberts Stadium last season. But Houston has won the last three games at Robertson Stadium.
In the last game played at Robertson Stadium, Houston picked up a 50-43 win when Keenum threw a 28-yard touchdown pass with 28 seconds left in the game. That game saw the teams combine for 1,358 yards of offense with Houston picking up 750 yards compared to 608 for the Golden Eagles.
“Our kids know what is at stake and what we are playing for,” Fedora said.” Now it’s time to finish what we started.”