Southern Miss prepares for FCS matchup against North Alabama


Golden Eagles huddle before game. Photo by Blair Ballou.

Coming off of a disappointing 30-6 loss against Rice, Southern Miss looks to rebound against North Alabama and earn its first home win of the season.

With last week’s loss, Southern Miss starts this season with a 1-5 record , which is the worst the program has performed since 2013. Still, Southern Miss is only 1-2 in conference play, which gives the team hope of competing for a conference championship.

Quarterback Jack Abraham is expected to return against North Alabama after sustaining an injury during an earlier game this season. With backup quarterback Tate Whatley also injured, transfer quarterback Trey Lowe III stepped in for his debut against Rice. 

Interim Head Coach Tim Billings talked about the quarterback possibilities for the next game while helping the team practice this week. Billings says that Abraham’s appearance is a day-to-day decision, and that Tate will likely not be available.

“There’s a pretty good chance that Tate will not be back this week and a good chance that Jack will be back,” Billings said.

While Southern Miss staged a third quarter comeback against Liberty, the team did not have similar outcomes against Rice, going down 23-6 in the first half. In the second half, Southern Miss only passed three times and gained a mere 54 yards of total offense.

The Golden Eagles also continued to struggle to defend the passing game. Rice quarterback Mike Collins passed for four touchdowns. Receiver Austin Trammell caught two of those passes, with a total of seven catches for 143 yards. Through six games, Southern Miss has allowed a conference high of 21 passing touchdowns.

Billings has made coaching adjustments on defense as a result. Despite the unit’s struggles, he believes that they are gradually improving.

“Tyler Barnes has been playing nickel[. He’s] been [the] safety for two weeks and he’s really getting better each week,” Billings said. “I thought Ky’el Hemby stuck out and did some great things for us chasing the ball and making plays. It was great to have Malik [Shorts] back. I just think each week, our corners are young and they’re getting better and better.”

North Alabama is the only Football Championship Subdivision (FCS) opponent Southern Miss is facing this year. North Alabama only has four scheduled games this year, which are all non-conference. The Lions have lost both games they have played so far, which were against Liberty and Jacksonville State.

Despite Southern Miss’s historical advantage over non-FBS teams, Billings praises North Alabama’s program and says that the team will not take any matchup lightly.

“Right now, how we’re playing and how things are going, everybody looks like the Kansas City Chiefs,” Billings said. “We’re going to pull all the stops to win this football game and we’re definitely not going to take anyone lightly right now, especially North Alabama.”

Through two games, the Lions have only had one passing touchdown and three interceptions. The Lions have struggled running the ball, only averaging two yards per attempt. The Lions will look to find success against a Southern Miss defense that has allowed 483 total yards and more than five touchdowns per game to go unaccounted for. 

“We’ve got four eyes on our secondary,” Billings said. “We’re just trying to get them where they’re technically sound and we’re doing everything possible to get them in the right spots to eliminate some of the situations we’ve had.”

The Golden Eagles offensive approach will likely depend on its quarterback situation. Billings explains the difficulties of preparing the offense for games with its uncertainties around the quarterback position. 

“There has to be a different package for Trey than Jack because they’re two different types of quarterbacks, which is a good thing sometimes, but it is also a tough thing because right now, you’re trying to win a game,” Billings said. “With everything that’s happened, it’s hard putting in two [game plans].”  

Depending on the game plan, Southern Miss will continue to prioritize balance through running. In two games, North Alabama has allowed 395 yards rushing and an average of five yards per carry. Southern Miss has only averaged 3.8 yards per carry on the season, but has had two games with over 200 yards rushing. 

“Right now, the goal is just to win this one,” Billings said. “The biggest thing now is we need to win this one and start getting some confidence and people back to try to get on a roll down the stretch and see what happens.” 

Southern Miss will kick-off against North Alabama at 2 p.m. on Nov. 7 at The Rock.