Challenge Accepted: Southern Miss Soaring into Battle with Troy

Two games into the Jay Hopson era, the Golden Eagles are still playing with house money.

The following is an official press release courtesy of Southern Miss Athletics.

Southern Miss Looks to Continue Good Start Saturday against Troy

HATTIESBURG, Miss. — For the first time in seven years, Southern Miss has the opportunity to start a football season with three consecutive victories.

To do that, the Golden Eagles will have to handle arguably the best team it has faced this season.

Southern Miss (2-0) will welcome Troy (1-1) to M.M. Roberts Stadium at 6 p.m. Saturday, a team that first-year coach Jay Hopson said bears many of the same qualities as his club.

The Trojans put up 57 points in a runaway win to open the season with Austin Peay before taking then-No. 2 Clemson down to the wire before dropping a 30-24 decision last week.

“I think they’ve got a lot of guys who play with a chip on their shoulders,” Hopson said. “I think that’s the same thing with our guys. You want to go out and play that way. You go out and play that way against ACC or SEC opponents, I think that’s something that just naturally happens.”

Led by running backs Johnny Chunn, Josh Anderson and Jabir Frye, the Trojans’ ground game ranks 19th among Football Bowl Subdivision teams, averaging 262 yards over two games.

All three backs average at least 7.2 yards a carry, with Chunn ranking 32nd nationally with a 102.5 yards-per-game average. Frye broke a 66-yard touchdown run against the Tigers last week.

The running attack has helped open a passing game that has averaged 226.5 yards a game.

Quarterback Brandon Silvers, a three-year starter, has completed 63.8 percent of his passes for 462 yards and four touchdowns with two interceptions.

His top targets include Deondre Douglas (138 yards, two touchdowns, on 18 catches), Emanuel Thompson (89 yards, a touchdown, on 11 catches) and Ismail Saleem (117 yards, a touchdown, on fiev catches.

All told, the Trojans are tied for 18th nationally in total offense, averaging 546 yards per game.

“It’s a team that can attack you from a lot of different angles,” Hopson said. “Good running backs, good receivers, good quarterback. They’ve proven that the last couple weeks.”

But Southern Miss has been even more potent.

The Golden Eagles rank eighth in rushing offense (315.5 yards per game) and ninth in total yardage (567.5 yards per game) and 11th in scoring (50 points per game).

Ito Smith ranks sixth nationally, averaging 150.5 yards per game on the ground. He and George Payne have both reached the 100-yard plateau in each of the Golden Eagles’ first two games.

They gave Southern Miss double, 100-yard rushers in back-to-back games for the first time since 2008.

Quarterback Nick Mullens, a four-year starter, has thrown for five touchdowns and rushed for three more. He’s only been sacked three times.

“I just feel like we’ve gotten each week, and that’s what you want,” Mullens said. “You want to be peaking at the right time, for conference play, and I think we’re well on our way to that point.”

Defensively, Troy has allowed 356 yards per game, ranking 36th nationally against the run (107.5 yards per game).  The Trojans have intercepted three passes and recovered a fumble.

Again, Southern Miss has been even stouter. The Golden Eagles established a new Conference USA record for total defense, allowing Savannah State just 41 net yards.

Southern Miss ranks seventh against the run (53.5 yards per game) and eighth in total defense (225 yards per game).

The Golden Eagles have collected nine sacks and teams have converted just 4 of 21 third-down opportunities.

“They’ve gone out there and played hard,” Southern Miss defensive coordinator Tony Pecoraro said. “They’ve gone out there and executed.”

Hopson said he liked what he saw from his Golden Eagles in their approach to last week’s game with Savannah State.

Hopson said he expects that same sort of focus Saturday.

“I think our football team understands we have a really good football team coming here Saturday night,” Hopson said. “Sometimes when you play an opponent where you’re supposed to win, like a Savannah State, you do worry about your players. You want to make sure that they’re focused and taking nothing for granted.

“This week, you don’t have to worry about that because every man in that locker room understands that there’s a really good football team coming in here Saturday. Top to bottom, they’re a good football team. It’s going to be a challenge, and it’s a game where we have to prepare hard and stay focused.”

Seats for this Saturday’s game against the Trojans can be purchased by going online at SouthernMissTickets.com, or by calling the Athletic Ticket Office at 1-800-844-TICK (8425) as well as visiting the Pat Ferlise Ticket Center on weekdays between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. The Pat Ferlise Ticket Office will also be open this Saturday from 10 a.m. – 2:30 p.m., and will then reopen at the Roberts Stadium Box Office at 3 p.m., until halftime of the game.

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