The Mississippi State Bulldogs square off with the Southern Miss Golden Eagles Saturday night for the first time since the 1990 football season. A few years ago when this contract was signed, both teams looked to be on their way up, but since that time, the Golden Eagles have slipped a bit, and they enter the contest as 30.5 point underdogs. Jason Munz (follow on twitter) of the Hattiesburg American helped us get ready for the matchup by answering a few questions for us.
1. Last year was a down year for the Golden Eagles. With so many things at play such as coaching changes, injuries and inexperience, how does the team look to rebound for 2014?
Obviously, the coaching change factor is nil this season. Which is huge. The only players on Southern Miss' roster that have ever had the same two head coaches in back-to-back years (prior to this year) are the fifth-year seniors. Of course, Southern Miss must avoid the injury-bug that plagued (a bit of an understatement) a year ago. Especially at certain positions. The Golden Eagles can't really afford an injury at quarterback, pretty much anywhere along the offensive line or in the secondary. And if Southern Miss can cut down on the turnovers - even a little - things will be better.
2. Southern Miss is listed as a 30 point underdog. Does this seem fair or are the Golden Eagles better than they are being given credit?
Given what has transpired with the Southern Miss program over the past two seasons, I'd say it's fair. Road game in a hostile, SEC environment, against a team hungry to make a statement with a very good quarterback under center.
All that being said, I'd be very surprised if Southern Miss lost by 30 or more points. If the Golden Eagles lose by 30 or more points, it'll be because they've turned it over a bunch. But that's an area the coaching staff says has been a major emphasis this offseason.
I don't look for it to be that much of a blowout.
3. Markese Tripplett said the other day that the MSU defense does not scare him. How do the USM receivers match up against the MSU secondary? How much of the situation will really be if the USM O-Line can protect Nick Mullens from the MSU defensive line?
The Southern Miss receivers should match up fairly well against the MSU secondary. The Golden Eagles are extremely deep at receiver, and have a lot of guys added to the equation that Mississippi State probably doesn't have a lot of film on. The additions of Mike Thomas, Casey Martin, and Kyle Foster are big. Also, D.J. Thompson missed all of last season with a few nagging injuries, but appears to be the real deal.
As far as protecting nick Mullens, that'll probably end up being the key to the game for Southern Miss.
4. Where does USM best match up against MSU?
I'd say Southern Miss matches up best vs. Mississippi State with its defensive front against the Bulldogs' front five. I also like Southern Miss' receivers against MSU's secondary/linebackers.
5. Dan Mullen keeps referring to this as a big game and a rivalry game? Just how big is this game to both teams and their fan bases, and could this become a heated rivalry?
It's a rivalry game simply due to the series history and geography. And Mullen's right, it is a big game for everyone involved. For different reasons, obviously. But this is a series that should've never gone away. And should never go away again. These two teams should play every year. And if not every year, every other year. It's good for the programs, the fans and the state.