HATTIESBURG — Southern Miss enters the toughest stretch of its season this weekend.
The Golden Eagles (5-3, 3-1 Conference USA) travel to No. 15 Houston (6-1, 2-1) in a crucial league contest Saturday at noon at Robertson Stadium.
Stopping the Cougars’ high-powered offense that averages a C-USA leading 536 yards a game will be a challenge for Southern Miss.
“We understand that Houston is playing really well and they are a heck of a football team,” Golden Eagles coach Larry Fedora said at his weekly press conference. “We will have our work cut out for us.
“When you get to play a nationally ranked team on the road and on TV, everyone should get a little excited. It is a tremendous opportunity. As a football team you do not get those very often and when they do come up you better take advantage of it. This is our second time this season to play a ranked opponent and we feel like from looking at film this is the best team we have played at this point.”
Southern Miss leads C-USA in total defense, but the Golden Eagles will have their hands full trying to slow down Cougars quarterback Case Keenum. The junior has thrown for 2,734 yards, 20 touchdowns and only four interceptions.
“He would be good in a lot of systems. He has a very quick release, a strong arm and is a very good decision maker,” Fedora said. “He has a very good idea of what they are trying to do and is a playmaker on top of that.”
Golden Eagles linebacker Jamie Collins, who had a fumble recovery for a touchdown against Tulane, welcomes the challenge.
“It’s the biggest game we’ve played this year,” Collins said. “They’re ranked and they are tough. We know we have to play hard.”
Golden Eagles quarterback Martevious Young knows he needs a huge performance to offset the Cougars.
“Our offense is going to have to put up a lot of points, because they (Houston) have a good offense,” Young said. “We have to go into this week focused. Everyone must fill their role.”
Houston has won 12 straight home games, which dates back to last season. Cougars coach Kevin Sumlin thinks they can play better.
“Are we there yet? No,” Sumlin said. “But we’re 6-1 and we can still play better. As long as we keep winning, the games will get bigger.”
James Jones/The Sun Herald