The Beef “O” Brady’s Bowl between Southern Mississippi and Louisville will be played tonight in St. Petersburg, Fla. While you try to contain your excitement and contemplate whether you’d be better off painting a room in your house and then watching it dry, I’ll provide some keys to this epic matchup.
Strength vs. Strength
Don’t be surprised if this game requires overtime tied at zero. That’s because the teams' strengths lie on opposite sides of the ball.
Led by quarterback Austin Davis, who has thrown for 2.898 yards and 18 touchdowns this season, the Southern Mississippi offense ranks No. 15 in the nation in scoring, putting up 37.6 points per game. In all, the Golden Eagles have scored 30 or more points 10 times this season.
Charlie Strong’s defensive-minded Cardinals will try to cancel out that offensive production. Louisville allows 18.7 points per game, which is No. 15-best nationally. The unit includes a pair of senior playmakers up front in ends Rodney Gnat and Malcolm Tatum, who have combined for 13 of the Cardinals’ 37 sacks, second-most in the Big East.
So, which side ultimately gives in?
Fedora, Strong Reacquainted
Once colleagues as assistants at Florida, Strong and Southern Mississippi’s Larry Fedora will reunite Tuesday night.
Fedora served as an offensive assistant in many capacities, including offensive coordinator, under Ron Zook from 2002-04. He accepted the Southern Mississippi job in 2008, after running the offense at Oklahoma State for three seasons. In his three seasons in Hattiesburg, the Golden Eagles have ranked no lower than 31st nationally in scoring offense.
The philosophy’s a bit different for Strong, who engineered the Florida defense for eight seasons, first under Zook from 2002-04 and then Urban Meyer from 2005-09. Like Fedora, Strong has made a quick impact on his program, only he has turned Louisville into a team built around sound defense and a solid running game.
The men will bring contrasting styles to the field Tuesday night, and the first one to take the other out of his game plan figures to have the advantage.
Brown or No Brown?
With the matchup between the Southern Mississippi offense and the Louisville defense seemingly a draw, Golden Eagles receiver DeAndre Brown could be the X factor. That is, if he plays.
The junior Brown, who owns 2,166 career yards and 24 touchdowns, is the most skilled player on the Southern Mississippi team, and at 6’6”, 239 pounds, he presents a tremendous mismatch to opposing defenses.
However, Brown has played in all but five games this season because of bone spurs in his leg. He participated in two of the Golden Eagles’ final three games, but sat out the season finale against Tulsa.
Fedora told reporters on Monday that Brown’s status was not yet determined, leaving open the possibility that the receiver could be a game-time decision. If he plays, Louisville will have to contain another threat in a receiving corps that already includes Kelvin Bolden, Johdrick Morris and Quentin Price, who have combined for 121 catches and 1,730 yards.
Run First, Pass Second … or Maybe Not
It’s clear that Strong is trying to give his offense a run-first mentality. During the regular season, the Cardinals ran the ball (443) considerably more than they threw it (331), yet the offense scored four more touchdowns in the air then on the ground.
Will Strong consider altering his philosophy for this game? The numbers indicate he should, despite boasting running back Bilal Powell, who is 10th nationally with 1,330 yards.
Southern Mississippi allows only 113 rushing yards per game, which ranks 13th in the nation. But as good as the Golden Eagles are at stymieing the run, they are 103rd against the pass, allowing an average of nearly 250 yards.
If giving the ball to Powell is unsuccessful early, Strong and offensive coordinator Mike Sanford might want to take some shots downfield to loosen up that Southern Miss pass defense, which shouldn’t be much of a chore. That, in turn, should open up some lanes for Powell to start gashing the defense and keeping the Golden Eagles’ offense off the field.
A Little Pregame Action Never Hurt Anybody
Not exactly bitter rivals, these two programs may have already given us a preview of what’s to come Tuesday night.
During what was supposed to be an innocent poolside dance competition on Sunday, a verbal sparring match broke out between several members of both teams, halting an event called the Beach Bash and creating some friction for the game.
The fracas had little to do with anything football-related, as an unidentified Southern Mississippi player told local media that Louisville players “started talking trash about us being in Conference USA, [that] we can’t dance … it was just stupid. We’ll do our talking on the field.”
Oh, them’s fightin’ words.
Things should be a tad more interesting now. And thank God, because for a second there I thought this was going to be a real snoozer.