Conference USA football: Southern Miss finding positives despite losses
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. -- Defending Conference USA football champion Southern Mississippi finds itself in a tough position, but not an unfamiliar one. The Golden Eagles dropped to 0-2 for the season after losing their conference opener to East Carolina 24-14.
Southern Miss also fell in last season's C-USA opener, 26-20, to Marshall. But after that game, the Golden Eagles rattled off eight straight wins and 11 in 12 games. That included a 49-28 upset of Houston in the conference title game and a 24-17 win over Nevada in the Hawaii Bowl.
First-year Coach Ellis Johnson said he could find plenty of positives in the ECU loss.
"The one thing I told our players is that after the first game I was not pleased with the way we competed from play one to the end of the game and that was not the case Saturday," Johnson said. "I thought we competed physically really well and played hard the whole game. It was just a matter of self-inflicted mistakes and penalties and other things that would keep us behind the chains."
Johnson noted the Eagles defense must get busy in the turnover department if the team is to succeed. Southern Miss is one of three teams in the Football Bowl Subdivision - Buffalo and Wisconsin being the others - that have yet to force a single turnover this season.
"Sometimes that's coincidental," Johnson said, "but I think (there are) other things we can start looking at through coaching and emphasizing that will maybe produce some turnovers, because field position due to those issues ended up being a big, big factor in the (East Carolina) game."
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MARSHALL ISN'T the only team in Conference USA near the bottom of the FBS rushing rankings, sitting at 91st. The University of Alabama at Birmingham is even lower, ranked 114th and averaging just 80.5 yards on the ground per game.
The Blazers gained just 27 yards rushing in a 49-6 loss to South Carolina.
UAB Coach Garrick McGee said that a lot goes into a successful ground game. It needs to improve, since the Blazers face Ohio State on Saturday, and the Buckeyes are tied with Purdue for 31st in the FBS allowing 108.67 yards rushing per game.
"I've been asked that question a lot throughout my career because the running game is all about timing," he said. "It's not just about handing the ball to the running back. The blocks have to be set up; the right tracks have to be set. The quarterback has to go from one play to another.
"If you have a bad play called the running back has to anticipate the defensive movement," he continued. "There is a lot that goes into running the football and I think we are headed in the right path."
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DEFENSIVE BACK Devon Walker, who broke his neck during a play in Tulsa's loss to Tulsa, has been transferred from St. Francis Hospital in Tulsa to an undisclosed in-patient rehabilitation facility. He underwent surgery last week to stabilize his spine, and Tulane team physician Greg Stewart said he's responsive and communicating with family.
Tulane Coach Curtis Johnson said that, while the team has Walker in its thoughts, it's done well in preparing for Saturday's game against Ole Miss.
"We've taken every precautionary measure around here and around the university," Johnson said. "We've done everything that we possibly could so that these guys can move in a direction to do what they love to do. They've moving in a much better direction."
Contact sportswriter Derek Redd at firstname.lastname@example.org or 304-348-1712. His blog is at blogs.dailymail.com/marshall.