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November 27, 2008

Eagles look to finish strong

HATTIESBURG, Miss. - Southern Miss looks to extend its winning streak as well as become bowl-eligible when they head to Dallas, Texas, this Saturday (Nov. 29) to face off against Conference USA rival SMU. Game time is set for 2 p.m., at Gerald J. Ford Stadium.

The game can be heard on the Southern Miss ISP Sports Network with the "Voice of the Golden Eagles" John Cox handling the play-by-play, while Vic Purvis handles the analysis and Jason Baker adds his perspective from the sideline.

The Golden Eagles (5-6, 3-3) look to extend their winning streak to four games. A sixth win for the Eagles would also give them bowl eligibility for the 15th consecutive season. They face a SMU (1-10, 0-7) team that, like Southern Miss, has had growing pains this season. The Mustangs have been installing a new offense under former Hawaii head coach June Jones.

This will be only the second meeting between the teams. Southern Miss defeated SMU last year in Hattiesburg, 28-7, for homecoming. Junior running back Damion Fletcher ran 19 times for 109 yards in that game, and senior tight end Shawn Nelson caught a touchdown as the Eagles held SMU scoreless for three quarters.

SMU has not defeated an FBS opponent this season and will surely be looking to end the Golden Eagles' hopes of a bowl game during its final game of the season. SMU's lone victory this year came against FCS opponent Texas State, winning 47-36. The Mustangs have, however, stuck with their opponents all season long and were only defeated by C-USA West Division leaders Tulsa and Houston by a combined 12 points.

The Mustang offense is led by freshman quarterback Bo Levi Mitchell. In Coach Jones' offense, a pass-heavy offense, Mitchell has thrown 23 touchdowns but has also thrown 21 interceptions. A hungry Golden Eagle defense, that has forced 26 takeaways this season, will look to force errant throws by Mitchell to create turnover opportunities. Mitchell has completed 58 percent of his passes (210-of-361).

The Mustangs' rushing offense is ranked last in the FBS, averaging just 44 yards per game. The passing offense, though, is No. 16, averaging 274 yards per game.

On defense, the Mustangs again rank at or near the bottom in most categories. Their rushing defense is No. 117, while their pass efficiency defense is No. 119 and total defense is at No. 118.

In contrast, the Golden Eagle defense has come alive in their past three games, holding opponents to only 7.7 points per game. The defensive corps is currently the No. 2 scoring defense within C-USA, behind only East Division Champion, East Carolina. They also rank fourth in C-USA in total defense.

Redshirt sophomore Justin Wilson intercepted two passes in the Golden Eagles' 21-3 victory over ECU and is tied for 30th nationally in interceptions. He is also tied for third in C-USA.

Redshirt junior Gerald McRath continues to lead C-USA in tackles, averaging 10.6 per game, and is tied for eighth nationally. The Powder Springs, Ga., native has 118 total tackles on the year.

For the Golden Eagle offense, redshirt freshman quarterback Austin Davis looks to continue his stellar campaign against the Mustangs. Davis, who holds most of the freshman records at Southern Miss, currently leads an offense that is ranked 19th in total offense in the nation.

His favorite offensive weapons, freshmen sensation DeAndre Brown and Fletcher, also have national rankings of their own. Brown leads all freshmen with 1,057 yards and 12 touchdowns. Those statistics also rank him 11th nationally in receiving yards per game (96.1). Fletcher leads C-USA in Rushing Yards per Game (117.6) and ranks ninth nationally.



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