Southern Miss (2-3) at Middle Tennessee (3-2) (ET)

FACTS & STATS: Site: Floyd Stadium (30,788) — Murfreesboro, Tennessee.
Television: American Sports Network. Home Record: USM 2-1, MTSU 2-0. Away
Record: USM 0-2, MTSU 1-2. Neutral Record: USM 0-0, MTSU 0-0. Conference
Record: USM 0-1, MTSU 2-0. Series Record: Middle Tennessee leads, 2-0.

GAME NOTES: The Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders will attempt to improve to 3-0
in Conference USA play on Saturday when they host the Southern Miss Golden
Eagles at Floyd Stadium.

Southern Miss fell flat in its conference opener last Saturday, enduring a
41-23 loss to Rice at home. The Golden Eagles have failed to get into any type
of rhythm this season, alternating losses and victories in each of their first
five contests, leading to a 2-3 overall record.

Middle Tennessee has also alternated outcomes, but it sits at 3-2, including a
perfect 2-0 against league foes. The second of those wins came in a 41-28
final over Old Dominion last weekend. The first required much more effort,
with the Blue Raiders outlasting Western Kentucky in triple-overtime (50-47).

This is just the second meeting between these two programs, with last year’s
42-21 victory for Middle Tennessee the first as conference rivals. The Blue
Raiders earned a 42-32 victory in the only other matchup, which came in the
2009 New Orleans Bowl.

Offense has been a constant struggle for Southern Miss, which is one of the
weakest units in C-USA. The Golden Eagles are only scoring 16.4 points per
game, while ranking fifth in the 13-team league in total offense (322.6 ypg).
Last week’s effort against Rice didn’t help much, as they finished with 323

Nick Mullens mans the quarterback post but he has failed to be anything more
than competent, at best. He completes passes at a 55.8 percent rate and does
have at least 200 yards in all five games, but he has as many touchdown passes
as interceptions (five). Protection has been an issue, with Mullens taking 11

It is difficult to tell who Mullens’ favorite target is, as Casey Martin (24
receptions, 188 yards) leads the team in receptions, but Markese Triplett (18
receptions, 187 yards) and Michel Thomas (12 receptions, 180 yards, TD) have
been productive as well. James Cox (nine receptions, 161 yards, two TDs) is
the only player with more than one touchdown grab.

Ito Smith leads the team in carries (56) and rushing yards (177), but he was
held in check against Rice, finishing with just a single yard on five
attempts. George Payne got a bit more work, picking up 40 yards and a score on
10 carries. He has had at least 10 totes in each of the last two games, while
Smith has been limited to a total of 11 in the last three.

Shortcomings on offense are difficult to overcome, especially when defense is
also a weakness. Unfortunately for Southern Miss, that is exactly what the
team is dealing with right now as the Golden Eagles are letting up 468 yards
per game, while being scored on at an alarming rate (36.4 ppg).

Brian Anderson (40 tackles) leads the team in total tackles, but Rakeem Nunez-
Roches (7.0 TFL) and Dasman McCullum (6.0 TFL, 2.5 sacks) have been more
critical for their ability to plays behind the line of scrimmage.

Middle Tennessee is a much more potent offensive team than its opponent this
week. The Blue Raiders rank third in the conference in scoring (38.6 ppg) and
fourth in total offense (473.8 ypg).

The Blue Raiders rely on the running game quite a bit, and for good reason.
They have a pair of running backs in Jordan Parker and Reggie Whatley, who
have been extremely productive, as well as a mobile quarterback in Austin
Grammer. Parker and Whatley have each gained 303 yards and scored a pair of
touchdowns. Grammer has 227 yards and five rushing TDs, matching his total
for passing scores.

When Grammer throws the ball he has completed passes at an efficient rate
(.696) for an average of 243.8 yards per game, but he has been picked off four

Marcus Henry (23 receptions, 313 yards, two TDs) is the leader in the
receiving ranks, as he has more receptions, yards and touchdowns than anyone
on the team. He is the only player averaging more than 50 yards receiving
per game.

Middle Tennessee’s defense is ranked just a few slots below its offense in
comparison to the rest of the league. The Blue Raiders are sixth in scoring
defense (30.6 ppg) and seventh in yards allowed (436.2 ypg).

T.T. Barber (39 tackles, 4.0 TFL, INT) and Kevin Byard (27 tackles, three
INTs) are two of the best playmakers on the roster. Leighton Gasque (4.0
sacks) provides a steady presence in the pass rush.

There is hope that Southern Miss could have a better week on offense against a
mediocre Middle Tennessee defense. However, until the Golden Eagles can solve
their defensive issues, facing any team with the type of offensive talent the
Blue Raiders possess will likely lead to a loss.

Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Middle Tennessee 37, Southern Miss 24